Kiln is not for the faint hearted. It is a restaurant with fire at it’s core. Heat blazes from the clay kiln pots that are used to cook with here, and pop up from the dishes studded with chilli. From the raised seating around the food counter it whacks you direct to face like the first steps off the plane on a summer holiday abroad. It is the remover of clothing, the bead of sweat inducing exhilarating reason that we love obsess over fire. A meal here is not only an insight into the food of North Thailand, it is a celebration of heat and the results it brings with control and skill.
To see it in action is part of the theatre. With electricity reserved only for lighting and refrigeration, all the graft is done by the small team over smouldering bits of clay. We are handed a menu from which we choose something from every section. We like the smaller dishes most, the pick being a coarsely ground sausage that packed the biggest of chilli hits. Chunks of aged lamb are skewered and fused only by the melted ribbons of fat. These are delicious, as are the chicken thigh glazed in soy in cooked gently through. It is the most solid of starts.
From the fish section comes langoustines, cured in lime and hardly cooked so that the flesh is still semi-translucent. It never loses the essence of the shellfish despite the big flavours of holy basil and chilli with every mouthful. It’s delicate yet punchy, and one of the very best langoustine dishes I have ever eaten.
We are told that the baked noodle dishes are something of a signature here, so we order them off the back of that. They prove to be the lunches weak point, the crab lost amongst the sour dressing that you work into the dish yourself, the pig unctuous but equally unremarkable. It’s nice enough, but for me not up to the same standard as everything else we eat. We finish up with a beef cheek curry, the texture of the cut of meat similar to how I’ve eaten it in the far east, which is a much quicker cook and firmer texture than the long braising treatment we often give it on these shores. It divides us; I really like the depth of flavour, complex with anise, galangal, and clove, my dining companion less so. I finish the bowl off happily, teasing the last of the sauce out with wild rice that still has a little bit to it.
The bill for all of this with a cocktail and glass of wine comes in at a shade over seventy quid, good value, we both agree. Kiln is simply a one-off; a sneaky peek into the cuisine for a part of a country not associated with voyeurism like it’s southern half. It’s a thrilling experience, equally for the punchy style of cooking and theatre. It’s vibrant and in your face, and worthy of anyone building a sweat up for.