Any restaurant where you can say the words ‘Thai’ and ‘barbecue’ in the same breath gets my vote. Kiln is the latest gaff from self-taught chef Ben Chapman – of Smoking Goat fame – and aims to take its by-the-roadside cooking style to the next level. And yup, his Thai barbecue game is pretty strong.
Smoking Goat has more of a dive bar vibe, with a handful of dishes and the kitchen out of sight. At Kiln, the ground floor is all about two things: cooking or eating. A stainless-steel counter runs its full length. Behind it runs the equally long open kitchen. There’s action and cheffery and drama at every swivel of your stool.
Sit at the back for the pyromaniac seats: a view into the kiln itself. Inside this small, insulated furnace, chestnut and oak logs are sent to their fiery end, the glowing embers occasionally removed to ‘feed the grill’ (as in, the chargrill) or ‘feed the tao’. A tao, in case you’re wondering, is a round ceramic container: you keep adding embers until there’s enough heat to cook on, using either a wok or a clay pot. Want to turn the heat down? Simple: take out an ember. It’s brilliantly low-tech.
The food is similarly stripped back. Dishes may be inspired by rural Thailand, but, where possible, they’re made with world-class British produce, mostly from indie Cornish suppliers. The lemongrass and Szechuan pepper, for instance, comes from a coastal polytunnel (a project Chapman helped fund).
The pork loin – cut from rare breed, fully free-range pigs – showcases Kiln’s ethos perfectly. A slab of succulent, ember-charred meat arrives sliced, with a zingy, fiery, sweet and salt sauce (of fresh lime juice, fish sauce, dried chilli and palm sugar) for dipping. Even better is the mackerel curry: a dry-fried explosion of flavour under an obscenely fresh piece of fish. (If you think of mackerel as ‘fishy’, Kiln is the place to convert you – all the fish has been out of the ocean for less than eight hours.) Or the wild ginger and short-rib curry, bursting with fragrant Burmese spices and pieces of beef so tender, you could eat them with a spoon. The dishes rarely use coconut milk (have you tried growing coconuts in the UK?), so go ahead and order several portions of the deliciously chewy brown rice: not only is this an excellent way to balance out all those intense, edgy flavours, but it’ll make your meal – and of course your moolah – go a lot further, too.
Not everything was perfect: a pair of cumin and chilli skewers would, paradoxically, have worked better with cheaper, fattier pieces of lamb (like the way they’re done at Silk Road in Camberwell) and an otherwise interesting dish of clay pot-baked glass noodles with pork tenderloin and crab meat was marred by being a touch overcooked.
But these are minor quibbles in what is fundamentally a good-value place to eat exciting food. Downstairs – where the groups sit – is a different kind of fun. It’s dark, it’s loud, it’s the place to bring your very best mates. The thing to do, apparently, is to ring up in advance, ask when the suckling pig will be in, then book yourself a basement table. That sounds like my kind of dinner party.