Chiltern Firehouse: Nee Naw. Nee Naw. Nuno.
Save the grunting doorman, entering the courtyard of swanky new hotel Chiltern Firehouse is a breath of fresh air from the hubbub of Mayfair on the other side. Mr Happy’s demeanour softens ever so slightly when I confirm that I have a reservation in the Restaurant, what a relief to feel accepted. Back to the courtyard; it’s easy to imagine beautiful bodies buzzing about here in warmer climes to come. Such a vast outside space is unheard of in this neck of the woods, and what a big draw it will be. Next step of the checking in process is the cloakroom, where I am warmly welcomed by a pretty woman dressed in a bubblegum pink silk jumpsuit. Things are looking up. The final step, arriving at reception, is very much a turn-left-when-you-board-a-plane scenario; more slender stunners dressed in the same jumpsuit thingy in different colours welcome you on board and you feel rather smug about the whole thing.
Other than the best looking fire brigade I’ve ever seen, first impressions are how breathtaking the space is. With cubby holes for a hot date to big tables for a lavish celebration, and an abundance of carefully placed mirrors in between, I imagine spending many an occasion here. Look, if you’re going to burn a hole in your bank balance, or preferably someone else’s, you may as well do it in the lap of luxury.Darty is running late. Eternal optimist and all that, this means I’ve got time for a sharpener. The bar is sleek and somewhere I would have little difficulty whiling away a few hours. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is what I have to say about the Negroni, meaning don’t mess with it y’hear, it’s perfectly formed as it is. Anyway, a hot french man convinces me to try naughty sounding Baise En Ville. Come on, what am I not going to like about gin stirred down with vermouths and bitters? Just as I’m onto my second, Darty arrives, sporting a have-you-seen-the-bird-at-reception smile. As ever, he opts for the girly much more elegant-sounding option, Ravello Breeze; gin shaken with lillet and saffron. Decadence. Although not big on tequila tails before dinner, next time I’ll try the Kinky Matador, a ridiculously delicious-sounding blend of tequila, campari, Dubonnet, sherry and grapefruit bitters with a lime twist. Yes Sir! We are sat at a long countertop facing the open kitchen. When there’s just two of you, I dig this style of dining, not because it’s takes the focus off of each other, but because it’s informal and you’re welcomed a little bit behind the curtain of the kitchen. And this immaculately decked out kitchen is something I am quite happy looking at; there’s a large team lead by Nuno Mendes of Viajante and the Corner Room, with a lot of kit, but everyone mucks in and gets the job done. Rather than an air of mayhem, there is a buzzy vibe that even the most cynical of us couldn’t help but feel. It is my kind of theatre.
Only one of the five snacks is gluten free, guess we’ll be having that then. We also fire crab doughnuts into the mix, simply because I’ve heard so much about them, I feel it would be rude not to. The cauliflower florets are crunchy and although I could eat truffle with anything, on anything, the truffle paste to cauliflower ratio is a bit top heavy. Darty’s juicy flavour-packed crab in a bouncy brioche bun ‘doughnuts’ live up to all the hype. Rather than filling us up with breads and spreads, I am a fan of this snack element while we peruse the menu. The sommelier hovers a bit but I know he’s just trying to do his job; we keep him at bay by ordering a Sancerre Rose which he seems to approve of.Just to be clear, there is not one thing on this menu that I wouldn’t love to try. Even just looking at the cooking methods happening in front of us; sous vide, char-grilling, Big Green Egg-ing, it’s clear that no stone has gone unturned. If this isn’t enough, there’s also a raw bar, where it’s crudo this and tiger’s milk that. A Caesar salad sounds safe no matter how you say it, but Mendes’ style shines through; replacing chicken with crispy chicken skin. It’s a small tweak but a key one. Grilled octopus is tender and complemented by mushies and aubergine. The King of the Sea is roasted and beautifully plated with raw and cooked heritage carrots. When heritage is put in front of fruit/veg, it basically means that item in various colours, and in this case, I enjoy ribbons of golden carrots and sweet sticky roasted purple carrots, all gorgeous with the meaty turbot. Of course the roasted short rib is a knock out; hazelnut and bone marrow make it a melt-in-the-mouth sensation. The sides should’ve got a right seeing to, but for some bizarre reason we only order the maple-Bourbon sweet pots. I’m expecting chunky crispy sweet spuds, so when a dainty Le Creuset pot of silky puree turns up, I am underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, they are top dog, just not what I expected, or fancied. By dessert, the fluffy cloud of rockstar food and pink Sancerre I am floating on feels so good, I even get involved with apple panna cotta. Here Mendes essentially gives Baked Alaska a whole new meaning, herb granita takes any sickly sweetness out of the dish too; right up my street. On the other hand, Darty goes to town with rich chocolate tart which showcases the cocoa bean in all its glory. With the likes of the Mercer and the Standard under his belt, it’s evident that hotelier Andre Balazs doesn’t do anything by halves, and his execution of Chiltern Firehouse is no different. Having Nuno Mendes at the helm of the kitchen is a class act; he leads a fiery brigade, smashing out plate after plate of comfort food with class.
Five Very Kerri things about Chiltern Firehouse
- Nuno Mendes
- Courtyard and a half
- Eye candy
- Cigarettes & Men (you’ll see what I mean)
- Comfort food with class