Sometimes there's nothing quite as glorious as an afternoon in your own company. A position I found myself in a couple of weeks ago when, at a lose end in the Big Smoke, I spent a happy hour or so drinking the fabulous cask Harveys and equally fabulous keg Kernal at the fabulous Harp in Covent Garden.
Buoyed by booze and getting peckish, (the Harp does offer pork pies, as all good pubs should), I decided to schlep along to Soho where I hoped to find a stool to balance precariously on at Kiln, the Thai restaurant that everyone's still (just about, see below) talking about, that has just secured the top spot at this year's National Restaurant Awards.
In case you were wondering how this one ends, the answer is happily and without incident (unless you count the splashes of curry sauce over my favourite blue work shirt), but I feel it would be remiss not to at least mention the 'Boring Thai' racist chef storm, involving erstwhile Som Saa chef Shaun Beagley, that engulfed Twitter the very day after my visit.
Now normally I avoid anything faintly concerned with currant affairs on the blog - not because I don't care about such things, but who wants to read about the depressing real world when you can read about how many puddings my wife has eaten this week (four, for the record. It's Wednesday). But this exploded in such a timely fashion that it seemed odd not to at least mention it, and the fact that racism, sadly, still seems insidious, and often in the places that you would least expect. So, if it even needed saying, don't be racist and don't be a dick, but, for now, back to the joys of my solo adventuring.
As I arrived pretty much as they opened for the evening (you can only book the downstairs tables, for larger groups) I got my pick of stools along the ground floor counter. Obviously, I headed straight down to the far end of the counter to the one seat that was little set away from the others, while the staff nodded approval in endorsement of my choice, and it's certainly a grand spot for people watching while not having to actually engage with anyone. Perfect.
From my vantage point I could see the lamb skewers being cooked over charcoal, so it would have been remiss not to order one, alongside an icy cold tankard of Hop House 13 lager. I suppose the big question is do they measure up to Silk Road's lamb kebabs, to which I say probably. And while you can have two and a half skewers at SR for the price of one of these, any saving is cancelled out by the bus to Camberwell.
Larb is probably the only dish ever to have made mince sexy. A 'meat salad', the most fabulous juxtaposition of words, that is most commonly eaten in Laos and the Isan region of Thailand. It can be prepared in a multitude of different ways, but I've mostly enjoyed it dressed with lime juice, fresh herbs and fish sauce and mixed with roasted ground rice.
Here it was made with roughly chopped raw beef and a healthy dose of chilli, like a tartare on steroids. Chunks of cucumber helped salve the thrilling spicy/sour burn of each bite. Not flavours for the faint-hearted, but an utter joy, and all mine.
The sour turmeric curry with turbot was outstanding. When I’m pretending my opinions are important (quite a lot of the time) I like to opine that turbot is my favourite fish. Mainly because my Mum bought some when I went round for dinner years ago, from the Transit van that used to come down one a week from Grimsby, then spent the whole time telling us it was seventeen quid for three pieces, which seemed like the most incredible extravagance for a Tuesday.
It was bloody nice though; as was this, the meaty tranche of fish just about staying on the right side of perfectly cooked while bobbing in its fragrant bath – which was all at once rich, complex, refreshing and soothing, as good Thai food should be. It was also ten pence under a tenner, which, considering inflation over the last fifteen odd years since the infamous visit to the fish man in rural Buckinghamshire, makes it seem even more of the bargain for central Soho.
As I was flying solo I treated myself to a glass of one of the most expensive wines on the list, a Sonoma chardonnay that looked, and tasted, rather like scrumpy. Kinda weird, but I kinda liked it and perfectly pitched to stand up to the salt and the smoke.
If they had a signature dish (the majority of the menu changes daily, depending on what’s available), it would have to be the ever present claypot glass noodles with Tamworth belly and crab. I’m normally not a great fan of glass noodles, finding them gloopy and tasteless, but the dish here did much to change my mind, in no small part down to the fatty pork and rich brown crab meat that infused the noodles with a glorious piggy, crabby funk, lifted by the verdant green chilli sauce alongside.
There's no dessert menu at Kiln but the ever-reliable Gelupo is just around the corner, so I decamped there for a double scoop of bonet - still a fave, years after my first visit, and tiramisu gelato. As Saint Delia said, one is fun, but I can't help feeling that having the Ewing there to help me finish my second scoop is always better.