Jack of all trades but master of none?
Following my stiflingly average experience at Banana Tree, I wasn’t enthused about trying another budget pan-Asian eatery but the need for a cheap meal after a hard day’s slog at work prompted me to visit Kin. This new restaurant, located on a side road you probably wouldn’t stumble across, servers a ragbag menu of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indonesian dishes. Although that unfocussed selection doesn’t sound very promising, Kin does at least have the benefit of good looks – the modestly sized dining room looks like a cross between a trendy furniture store and a common room inhabited by Japanese students. The effect is slightly ruined by the takeaway counter for the office lunch trade.
Although the waiting staff were sometimes a little inattentive, that couldn’t be said for the friendly, informative and chatty proprietor. I found that he was more than happy to talk about the intricacies of Vietnamese coffees or the level of Scovilles in Thai salads of varying spiciness.
First things first
I was famished on my first visit to Kin, so I skipped the pleasantries of having three courses one after the other and just plumped for two main courses. I was expecting a lot from the Thai green papaya salad following my visits to Suda, Covent Garden’s self-proclaimed Thai salad specialists, but Kin’s version was disappointing. Although there was plenty of shaved green papaya, there was also more carrot than I would have liked and the whole mass of overly refrigerated orange and green was chilly and bland. There was some relief in the form of the chewy and salty dried shrimp and the dry heat from the sliced chillis, but this wasn’t enough to redeem what felt like a rather slapdash salad.
Things picked up a little with the chicken katsu curry which arrived in an oddly deconstructed form – the rice and chicken separated from each other with the curry sauce in a bowl. Although the strips of chicken had an oddly smooth texture to them, the crisp, unoily batter made them a joy to nosh down on. The curry sauce tasted heavily of onions and off-the-shelf curry powder which may be preferable if that’s how you like katsu curry, but I prefer Ten Ten Tei’s more balanced sweet and peppery version.
The highlight of the evening turned out to be the Vietnamese coffee which was drip brewed at my table. I wasn’t expecting much from it, so I was pleasantly surprised by the mellow, chocolate-ish, slightly nutty flavour which is best savoured with slightly less condensed milk than would otherwise be served in a Vietnamese coffee. It’s not particularly strong, but then you wouldn’t want it to be in the evening.
Going back for seconds
I had heavily mixed feelings about my first meal at Kin so I headed back the following evening. Following a more traditional system of courses, I started off with the bun cha – a Vietnamese dish of grilled pork wrapped in lettuce with cold noodles. The pork wasn’t chargrilled to within an inch of its life as tradition dictates, but it was pleasing enough with a sweet, caramelised taste. The cold noodles were a little too soft for my liking, but the real let down was the ‘spicy’ dipping sauce which was tart, but otherwise disappointingly tame and lifeless.
Against my better judgement I ordered the salt and pepper stir fried tofu which turned out to be quite yawn inducing. The bland, boring and chewy cubes of tofu would need to be doused in a vat of salt and pepper to become interesting – that or a heftier serving of the caramelised onions and shallots that occasionally perked up an otherwise tediously dull dish.
My taste buds perked up again with the arrival of the pad thai. The firm noodles had been cooked in a zesty, moreish stock but the prawns were far too soft with little flavour, so it was left to the scattering of crushed peanuts to add a little texture. It was thankfully not as oily or as stodgy as the many lesser pad thais I’ve had. Not a bad pad thai overall, but it’s let down by the overcooked prawns.
Kin’s green tea ice cream is addictive with the distinctive green tea taste coming through. However, it’s not quite as good as the best green tea ice creams which have a gelato-like waxy tautness to them.
The menu at Kin contains a couple of duds as well as a few average and merely satisfactory dishes, but the gems are few and far between. This isn’t likely to bother the office workers and students whom I suspect will make up the bulk of Kin’s lunchtime clientele and will lap up the very reasonable prices. For everyone else however, there’s little reason to seek out Kin unless you happen to be in the area and are either short on cash or can’t get into anywhere else.
Address: 88 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TT
Phone: 020 7430 0886
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday noon-15.00 and 17.00-22.30. Saturday noon-22.30. Closed Sundays.
Reservations: yeah, if you want to.
Total cost for one person: £22 approx.