Sunday, 1 January 2017

Kiln Killed the Mood

I could finish relatively early on a weekday evening, so it was a good opportunity to get us in the queue for new restaurants that have joined the 'no reservation' trend. At around 6pm the queue is usually 1-1.5hrs, I got there just before 6pm and got the only 2 empty seats.

The tiny restaurant offer counter seating only, with the kiln at the back of the bar, churning out small dishes of Southeast Asia / Chinese inspired food. It's the same people behind Smoking Goat that made its name serving Thai barbecue food. So the expectations were high. I started with a glass of pink bubbly, much better than his French Cabaret Sauvignon and Grenache.

Aged Lamb & Cumin Skewer
The small lamb skewers were loaded with cumin and spice. It reminded me of the lamb skewers in Silk Road or My Old Place; except the Chinese restaurants only charge £1 each, double the size and twice as much flavour because they have small morsels of fat on the meat. The lamb could have been more tender here.

Mackerel Dry Red Curry
The dish was scattered with colourful peppers, seemingly innocent and harmless. I went straight for a red one thinking it was the usual sweet capsicum pepper... Silly me. It was a full on hot chilli pepper, in fact, there were a few types of exotic chilli peppers on the plate with the sole purpose of knocking my senses out, each with a slightly different depth in heat. It was no surprise then that the pepper seed coated mackerel was an explosion in mouth. The fillet itself was delicate, but all fishiness and freshness was drowned out by the spices. It was a tad too much for me.

Clay Pot Baked Glass Noodles with Tamworth Belly & Brown Crab Meat
The claypot glass noodle was their must-try signature dish. Honestly, I found it quite underwhelming; the dry and overcooked vermicelli had lost its bounce, became brittle and more like a tongue-piercing tool, failed to soak up the sauce that brought flavour. The brown crab meat was lost in the small pot of nothingness, and the three wafer thin pieces of pork belly buried under the pile of hay-like noodle were just as sinewy and parched; the sharp piquant watery dip did very little to save the dish. Not worth the trouble.

Wild Gingeer & Short Rib Curry from Burma
We chose 2 pork curries as Kiln boasts working with whole pigs and hoggets. The Burmese curry was fragrant and vibrant with spices, pungent and raw, throwing punches of flavours without the mellowing coconut milk to blend the flavours. The short rib was tender, we could cut through the slice with a spoon effortlessly. And the reason why we had to half it was because there were only 3 meagre pieces of meat on the plate... £8.50 for about 60g - seemed a bit dear, considering I could get 100g of chateaubriand for £9.

Roast Long Pepper & Tamworth Shoulder Curry
The roast long pepper curry was less remarkable, there was too much turmeric in the curry concoction, too much ginger and not enough fiery peppery punch. There were more cubes of pork shoulder in this dish, but the meat was quite dense and lean unless it was attached to a thick wedge of lard. The flavour didn't penetrate into the pork, leaving much to be desired.

We left Kiln feeling disappointed; couldn't quite justify the hype. The dishes didn't resemble anything I had in Burma and Laos, and Yunnan aren't known for curries. I understand the kitchen has tried to combine different elements by covering various regional cuisines, but the results lacked chemistry and surprises. Compared to the bold flavours and feasting dishes at Smoking Goat, Kiln is somewhat pretentious and restrained. With the no reservation hassle and the endemic queuing issue in London, I'd give this a miss.

58 Brewer Street
No Reservation

Kiln Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Monday, 19 December 2016

Clipstone - No-Brainer

Originally I wanted to try Portland but he has already been earlier this year, so I booked for newer sister Clipstone. I didn’t know what to expect, but reviews have been mostly positive.

The compact dining room was casual with a warm buzz; the open kitchen was sending out waves of mouth-watering perfume as we were seated at the window counter. Our server explained the menu was designed for sharing, so 2 or 3 dishes each should be enough. I started with a light and fruity Cherubino, one of the very wallet-friendly on-tap options, and he with a Chateau Pesquie, probably too acidic for his taste.

Isle of Mull Scallops, puy lentils, brown butter & dill
The scallops were gignormous; easily 3cm thick. The muscular scallops were just cooked to retain its bounce and succulence, showing off its sweet juices and freshness. I secretly wished it could be a tiny bit undercooked, so the centre would be more creamy. I remain undecided as to whether lentils go particularly well with scallops, but the brown butter sauce and lentil combination was definitely a winner.

Delica pumpkin, apricot, herbs & crème fraiche
The squashy wedges of pumpkin were topped with chopped tangy apricots. The morsels of fruit bursted with refreshingly citrusy juice that balanced well with the pumpkin sweetness, harmonised by small blobs of sour cream. The roasted herbs added a beautiful finishing touch for a wholesome after taste.

Calves brain meuniere on toast

Having seen this as one of the top 10 dishes in 2016 in Timeout, I had to give it a try.

The brain was wobbly soft and silky, not dissimilar to a thick block of Japanese tofu, perhaps just with slightly higher density. Its milkiness mixed with the rich bovine gravy that had a gelatinous finish was absolutely delicious. I loved it.

Our waitress explained this dish divides people - It's all in the head (pun intended). He struggled with the idea and was visibly reluctant to put the brain-loaded toast into his mouth.  The fact he had to convince his own brain that it was tofu to stomach it wasn't worth the effort.

Pheasant, chanterelles, chestnut & cranberry

We were offered pheasant or Guinea fowl, we opted for pheasant as it's more gamey. The meat was perfectly roasted to gentle softness, but extremely powerful in flavour, even mildly metallic, paired with earthy and aromatic girolles mushroom and rounded by a savoury meaty jus. It was one of the best winter dishes this year.

Hebridean Lamb, artichokes, parsley root & shiso
The lamb was sensational. The meat was blanketed with a layer of fat that gave it a distinctive fragrance. It was roasted to a beautiful medium pink, glistening in its juice and melted grease, remarkably tender as if it was lamb marshmallow.  The confit on the side was almost as impressive,  packed with meaty essence from the leaner cuts, paired with a velvety parsnip root purée, which was clean and mildly sweet like celeriac. It was a delicately balanced dish.

Paris Brest
We knew the Paris Brest wouldn't be as good as the one from Les Reves de Patisserie, but it didn't disappoint either. The choux pastry was slightly doughy and lacked a brittle crisp shell, but the thick layer of hazelnut ganache made up for any shortcomings of the pastry; it was airily smooth and oozed nutty perfume. Great finish.

We thoroughly enjoyed Clipstone, so much so that he said he'd happily eat here every week (though he quickly backtracked to every month), minus the brain on toast. The dishes were thoughtfully composed with a wide range of ingredients, all beautifully balanced. We agreed it was one of the best restaurants in 2016.

5 Clipstone Street
Tel: 0207 637 0871

Clipstone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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