Growing up in the countryside I have always felt it a little awkward to even go for a coffee alone and needed my “armour” usually in the form of a book, laptop, phone. As the years have passed and I’ve become a kind of Londoner it seems far easier to go to a coffee shop or pub by yourself and just blend in than it ever did back home when I might see someone I know whilst going solo. Is this just the small-town girl in me or has London also evolved to cater for us solitary socialites? Eating alone feels far more sociably acceptable than it once was. Dining alone is not just something we do because we’re solo travellers with no companion, gathering dust on the shelf, have clashing schedules with our spouse or let down by a friend. It’s become an active choice for us Londoners to venture out without a plan and enjoy our own company, yet do we still feel a little uneasy about it in certain environments...?
The most sociably acceptable place to “dine” solo is the coffee shop, they’re everywhere and mostly always busy with a fast turnover of custom. It’s either a pit-stop or somewhere to use free wifi... with of course our armour in hand. Having a coffee with waffles and bacon at Joe’s café in Tooting has become my go-to Sunday morning pleasure before really interacting with anyone, I do take the armour. In the early days I would often chicken out of sitting in with my coffee when I’ve seen tables of groups for the fear assumptions will be made that I’m lonely rather than just enjoying some me time. I wondered if this was a small-town insecurity of being silently judged by others.
My local Italian - Dive In, a stone’s throw from Joe’s, now greets me with a passing wave before I’ve even decided to go in and generally a glass of wine poured before I reach the counter. These however are just local relationships I’ve formed over the years with my favourite places. Taking myself out for an evening meal was a slightly deeper step into the unknown. This all sounds very dramatic and to a solo traveller probably ridiculous, equally I‘m sure there are others that will agree it’s a social milestone to be a solo diner.
This brought me to discover KILN http://www.kilnsoho.com/ on Brewers Street in Soho; Kiln is my most recent solo dines which I only discovered yesterday through the idea of this blog, I thought I should venture out for an evening meal alone and out of the comforts of Tooting if I was to fully give an opinion. I walk into a narrow counter style restaurant – not so daunting for the solo diner – much more welcoming that walking up to an open restaurant with tables for 2+ which there is downstairs. The place is buzzing, fast paced and sizzling hot from stoves on the go in the open kitchen.
Instantly greeted by a friendly waiter, I say “one please”, he confirms “just one?” a normal thing to check, let’s not get paranoid just yet.... I wait a fraction of the time of the other diners in groups, making me feel quite smug about my choice to omit a companion. I’m slot in between a group and another lone diner, so far so good.
The kitchen staff look like they’re having a ball moving around one another, it’s a practiced routine working with their primitive stoves, multiple woks on gas flames, logs thrown into the furnace – it’s all go! The open kitchen faces the counter and I have a front row seat to the gastronomic show where they’re on display, not me.
It’s a short and slick menu – great for the indecisive lone wolfer – yet every dish has an impressive bio and my waiter is keen to talk me through the dishes while I decide.
The simple one sheet menu tells you that the cuisine is influenced by the regions where Thailand borders Burma, Laos and Yunnan. Their approach is guided by sourcing British produce. Grower Sean O’Neil and Thai Tana supply their Thai and Chinese herbs and vegetables. Tamworth pigs are bred for Kiln by Fred Price in Somerset and Hogget is bred by Phillip Warrens Farmers. Dayboat seafood is delivered every morning.
I love Shellfish and Pork which is most of the menu, so I was happy as a Tamworth.... The only downside to eating alone here is that you limit the chance to try most of the menu because you do want to order it all!
I went for the Tamworth Pork Belly & Kapi Curry with Jasmine Rice (see picture... a quick moment with my armour out).
The food came in a flash – great for the awkward lone diner – it also came quicker than my beer which I think was just a forgetful slip... surely I’m not eating alone and drinking alone!? (Shhhh paranoia).
Served in clay pots with more emphasis on taste than unnecessary presentation, my curry was a sensation. The pork belly was slow cooked and practically melted in my mouth and they do not mess about with the spices here! You are warned on the menu some dishes are very hot and if that’s your bag, you won’t be disappointed. The cold Hop House beer complimented my spicy dish perfectly but if you are more for the vino then the wine list has some corkers to enjoy.
I must admit after my meal I didn’t linger too long, I’d set my rules that I would not be pulling out the armour for this one and in this fast paced restaurant with queues behind you I felt right to use it as a quick bite rather than settling in for another drink.
Ben Chapman’s Kiln is the perfect first-time solo dine in my opinion, in fact going with a group looked a bit of a pain if you want to be around the kitchen counter and not tucked away in the restaurant downstairs.
I’d go again in a heat beat; next time I’d not wear a jumper and I’ll be trying their famous glass noodles with crab meat which seemed to be flying off the counter at every glance. Any self-consciousness resides quite quickly in this kind of environment and I walked out of my new discovery feeling pretty confident.
On a whole, evening meals with other humans will continue to be my first choice but I absolutely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone next time you just fancy a solo take away. Take away the fear and step into a restaurant. I opted for a Tuesday night with a counter seat but maybe I will branch out and take myself for a Saturday date at a table facing an empty chair... or will I?
Following my baby step into evening solo dining I've noticed more and more varying standards of solitary foodie friendly places with individual booths and tables assigned for one and a lot of them are in the hub of the West End. Here are a single handful to check out;
- Spuntino http://spuntino.co.uk/ you’ll find counter seats throughout the venue woven around the bar. Describing itself - “A scruffy small-plate joint serving strong cocktails and Italian/American comfort food with a scratchy blues soundtrack”.
- Mildreds http://www.mildreds.co.uk/ - Soho also Camden, Kings Cross and Dalston. A vast selection of Veggie and Vegan cuisine is less than formal environments, including a canteen type vibe.
- Lina Stores https://www.linastores.co.uk/ - Counter stools where you can eat reasonably priced pasta and chat to the chef’s if your mood takes you. Just around the corner from their amazing delicatessen.
- Princi http://www.princi.com/ - A bit more than just a pizza parlour, this is a casual and relaxed eatery perfect for one to pop into and settle in if you fancy it.
- XU https://xulondon.com/ - Taiwanese Teahouse & Restaurant with two tables custom design for the solo diner, arguably the best solo seats in town.
- Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs https://kitchentablelondon.co.uk/ - If you’re a proper foodie and fancying something a little more exclusive on your solo venture, book at seat at this 2 Michelin-starred restaurant and have a private dining experience with 19 others where you will be talked through a 12 course tasting menu.
Megan McGuiness - Recrutiment Consultant
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