Everything has been written about Kiln. All the words. I’ve just read them all – by Fay and Giles, Grace and a hundred others. About Ben Chapman and his evangelical thirst for knowledge and apparent allergy to electricity. About the immaculately sourced Tamworth pigs and day boat-caught brill, the clay pots and the charcoal, the hipster chefs and the retro turntables and the Northern Soul. All the words, about a specific long pepper and the herbs grown in Cornish poly tunnels. All the words about ‘peak 2016’ and no bookings and how they’ll text you when a spot at the bar becomes available. The variations of fish sauce and the genus of the basil. The heat, the dark, the aggressive assault on your namby Western palates. The intensity and the goodness of it.
So I’m not going to write those words again because you can read them all in many a myriad place far from here. I decided to write about Kiln a year after everyone else because of how it makes me feel and how imperturbably it has snuck up on me to become just about my favourite place to while away an hour in London.
It is also a symbol, a starting point for me after a year in which I have spent four of its twelve months lying in bed, in pain and fatigued. There will be other times when the downside of that unpleasant stat come more to the fore, not least the effects that it has had on my mental health, career, bank balance and family, but I have also had a lot of time to think, I’ve had a lot of therapy and counselling and I’ve given up a lot of the things that although I loved, made me stressed and sick and tired. So now I’m a writer. Exciting! I’m no longer a shopkeeper, a restaurateur or an entrepreneur. My days as a wine merchant, publican, butcher and chef are gone – I’m not an ‘operator’ or a salesman, a creative director or a party planner or any other of the other jobs to which I have turned a hand over the last twenty years. Now is not the time to wallow in what might have been but push on to what could be, repair my gut, my head and do things that make my children proud.
And the first thing that I’m going to write about is Kiln because it makes me very happy and I wish I’d thought of it, done it and nailed it like Ben has.
As a responsible eater of food you simply have to have a favourite restaurant, one that you patronise weekly, or as often as you can afford. One where you alone pay a fair chunk of the KP’s daily wage or the business rates, one where you can make a difference to their bottom line, because it’s nigh on impossible to run restaurants in London – certainly without massive investment so when you find somewhere that fits you, embrace it, help them, tell people.
And so it is with Kiln, I just like being there more than I like not being there. I like the staff, so engaging and sweet. I like the fierce heat from the charcoal and the turmeric gin and tonic. Sure, it looks like twenty other Soho restaurants, all brick and exposed extraction but it has a singular character that just suits me; it might not suit you and that’s OK.
All of the food is good and I have eaten maybe forty dishes there without a duffer, not one that I wouldn’t gladly order again and again, but I only want to tell you about one of them, The Burmese Wild Ginger and Beef Cheek Curry but without mentioning the beef cheek. Because the sauce is the thing; the distillation, the very essence of Kiln. The liquor, scooped from the bowl after the protein has gone is the summation of all of the parts; the soul, heart, joy and work that have gone into this beautiful little restaurant.
It is hellish dark and deep but thin, almost broth like, the better for drinking from the clay bowl like the animal you are. But first the aroma, nectar-like, ambrosial. Floral but deeply savoury and then everything pops as each receptor in your mouth acknowledges that something weird is happening as layer upon layer of flavour coats your tongue for the briefest blissful moment. You know in an instant that these spices have been hard toasted and ground here, probably that morning, that the cheeks were browned to crispness with marmitey crust before their low, slow braise. You know with this sip that each herb was fresh and chopped with care, each allium lovingly peeled. This sip tells me everything that I need to know about Kiln, everything and more.
And that is why the first thing that I write as ‘just’ a writer will be about Kiln, because of a spoonful of sauce and the way it makes me feel.