Each suburban soul yearns for the Soho of their youth. It isn’t that Soho was better in the 1990s when I invaded the Colony Room, twitching, and took a fag off Sarah Lucas. It is that I was.
This was the view of a friend after I last wrote on Soho restaurants. We once ran holding hands through the sprinklers in St James’s Park laughing at Peter Mandelson, who was passing with his dog, and that is my memory of the Blair years.
So Soho, which is thick with metaphor anyway — its very name is a hunting call: death for one and ecstasy for another — is a district to measure your age. The new buildings barely matter in this reasoning, even if I hate them. The stones — and the possibilities — remain. You can’t erase the energy of that much bad sex. It is you that has changed. You are journeying to husk. An almost-corpse. That is why you are addicted to banquettes and sticky toffee pudding and waiters who pretend to care. You should begin to investigate grave sites.
Now, if she is right — and I am not sure she is yet — that is the reason that I hate Kiln.
Kiln is fashionable. I fantasise that whenever I type that word Spectator readers sigh and turn to Rod. Don’t go to Kiln. It won a meaningless award — best UK restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards 2018, actually — for being (and I admit I do not know what this means) ‘democratic’. Does this mean Rosa’s Thai Café — which I endorse for its natural light — is run by Viktor Orban but Kiln is run by someone more dedicated to the principles of social democracy? Aren’t all restaurants, like all newspapers, tyrannies?
I haven’t taken awards seriously since I covered the Rear of the Year and watched a woman with bright hair posing with her bum sticking out. I don’t know what was more wretched: that her bum won an award or that I wrote about it. I don’t remember the woman. I only remember the bum. Awards should be ignored unless it is Doris Lessing winning the Nobel Prize and learning it in a street in West Hampstead (as her son carried an artichoke from a taxi, and said, with too much pleasure, ‘A certain professor must have died’).
Kiln is in Brewer Street, which is teeming, as ever, with genial and over-flowing filth. It’s the street where I once watched an Orthodox Jew bounce into a sex shop like a space ball with a painted-on beard. The guilt came later. It’s near the expensive spectacle shop where they won’t answer your questions if you are ugly.
We arrive at Kiln. We have no reservation. We give my name and wander the streets, and receive a text when there is a place for us at the bar. After what feels as epic a journey as the Hobbit’s to Mordor, we are inside. It looks like an industrial kitchen that resents light. I usually go to restaurants to avoid kitchens but a kitchen is unavoidable here. It is all kitchen.
We eat a lamb skewer, grilled pork, beef neck curry, turnip salad and crab and pork in clay pot. The price is good — £55 including wine. It is edgy Thai food and I suppose I would enjoy it if I wasn’t sitting in noisy semi-darkness on a bar stool. Who needs semi-darkness in Soho interiors when the darkness is deep both within and without? I wouldn’t call this restaurant democratic, which was probably a reference to its queuing system. I would call it populist: a restaurant for the Twitter age — and Twitter was the only thing that David Cameron was right about. I can take the despair. It’s the hype I can’t stand.
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