Chiltern Street will never be the same again. The arrival of the celebrity zoo Chiltern Firehouse has shaken London’s restaurant scene unlike anything else. Reservations are non-existent and only a famous friend can help you get a table here. I insisted on registering for the waitlist for an August Monday evening and my luck was in as Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus obviously got a better offer for that night as a table became available for little, unimportant me.
Despite the hovering paparazzi at the entrance, I saw zero celebrities inside, which was extremely disappointing considering the A-listers who have been pictured there recently. With this in mind it seems fair to focus this review on the food and service I experienced at London’s hottest hang-out. The building itself is lovely, an old red-brick fire station and this gothic venue certainly sets the mood of the exclusive restaurant and hotel. It is the latest offering from Andre Balazs (prestigious hotelier) and Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes (of Viajante fame) takes control in the open kitchen.
Ushered in and checked off on the reservations list we took a seat at the bar, which seemed to be an area for elegantly dressed waitresses to gossip amongst themselves. It seemed silly not to try a couple of cocktails, seeing as we were finally here. We sampled a Kiss and Tell (Poached rhubarb, vermouth, vanilla bitters, raspberry air emulsion) and a Happy Marriage (Gin, lemon juice, violet liqueur, lavender sherbet, bergamot). Both were delightfully light and innovatively flavoured drinks, priced at £12 each.
Service is NOT the strong point here, our waitress was a complete mess… dashing about frantically, persuading me to order the most expensive wine, spilling water over the table and working with such haste that charm and efficiency were absent. She seemed to move around the restaurant at a run, I wanted to grab her and calm her down, or encourage her to delegate some of her jobs to the idle workers at the bar who were prioritising chatting over customers.
Nuno Mendes’s new eatery has already become known for several signature dishes… we ensured we tried the Crab-stuffed donuts with coral dusting from the snacking menu. They are tasty and attractive balls of brioche filled with soft crabmeat, nice but not spectacular. The bar menu had some of the most delectable sounding dishes and we also opted for the strangely cold but vibrantly flavoured Cauliflower Florets with spiced truffle paste, the very delicious thick Cornbread Fingers with naughtily rich Chipotle-maple butter and the exquisite Fried Chicken with smoky-bacon ranch dip. So far I was impressed.
We skipped starters in favour of a main course each, I thought here Mendes might compromise his creative cuisine for something rather more mainstream, but the flavour combinations were quirky and mostly successful. Chargrilled Iberico Pork with raw and roasted turnips was delicious, fine meat cooked red with a crispy salty edge, concealed in greenery – it felt healthy and satisfying. The Spring Lamb was cooked slightly too rare for me, it was a woody recipe accompanied by black garlic, goat’s curd and grilled lettuce. Both arrived a little lukewarm which was disappointing.
Desserts don’t come cheap, at £9 a plate. We shared the Frozen Apple Panna Cotta with herb granite and dried meringue. I loved this fresh and light pudding that combines garden ingredients to make an exotic and exciting dish, it cleansed the palate and gave a nice little sugar kick simultaneously.
I’ve heard that Chiltern Firehouse is a different affair at lunchtime, when the whole place is rather more relaxed and far less manic. Although the service and attitude lacked appeal, Nuno Mendes is the saving grace in the kitchen, creating food that is memorable and magical. As always the hype rather overshadows the product, I overheard a punter leaving commenting to his lady: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about… Chiltern Shit-house.” Shame really, this should be a restaurant for foodies but it is instead over-populated by celebrities and wannabes who only appreciate the pretension and trendiness. Let’s see how long the monarch of Marylebone lasts.
More information here: www.chilternfirehouse.com