Marylebone celeb hangout serves good grub
I like to make repeat visits to restaurants before writing a review for any number of reasons, from trying to get a feel for the kitchen’s style to giving wobbly staff a chance to get their act together. Or simply because I really enjoy what they serve. Making repeat visits to Chiltern Firehouse isn’t really practical though – the restaurant is apparently fully booked until the autumn. In my case, I had to book a month in advance and even then I had to settle for a less than convenient time slot.
Set in a handsomely renovated fire station and manned by friendly and efficient staff, the Chiltern Firehouse is excessively popular with both moneyed suits and celebs alike. They’re probably relived they can sample the creations of chef Nuno Mendes without having to leave their oligarch comfort zone as they would’ve done with Mendes’ previous restaurant, Viajante, in the wilds of Bethnal Green. Sadly and shamefully I never ate at Viajante, but the Euro Hedgie did which made him the perfect dining companion for this dinner.
The best seats in the house, assuming you’re eating solo or as part of a couple, are at the counter looking directly into the busy yet quietly efficient kitchen. There are plenty of quick-to-arrive snacks to graze on while waiting for the bigger dishes on the menu. The snacks are also available at the small, relatively narrow bar. A snack of cauliflower might not seem very appetising, but the firm florets were served in a sauce that had a complex, enticing mixture of subtly earthy and spicy flavours.
The chunks of fried chicken were oil-free, but couldn’t match the crisp moreishness of the version often available at The Clove Club. Most of the joy came instead from the ‘ranch’ dip – salty, creamy and smoky.
The finger loaves of cornbread look like corn dogs, but there’s nothing meaty about them. The fluffy, gently sweet and nutty fingers were served with a creamy, lightly smoky spread on the side. Not bad, but I’d prefer a more traditional take on cornbread with bolder flavours.
Almost everyone around us on that evening ordered the crab-stuffed doughnuts, probably just for the novelty factor. Although far from bad, this little dish doesn’t have a lot going for it beyond the novelty factor – chewy, fluffy pastry balls sliced open and filled with mildly zingy head crab meat. The two halves were mildly pleasant on their own, but didn’t really come together as a coherent whole.
None of the snacks really set my world alight, but things started turning around with the starters. The Euro Hedgie’s cod starter consisted of bite-sized chunks of tender, just-rare fish served in a thin herby sauce alongside tomatoes bursting with rich, complex umaminess.
The crisp lettuce of the Caesar salad was drizzled in a dressing that was creamy, but not too overpowering or sickly. The salty, tangy anchovies were a pleasure, but they wasn’t enough of them. What really set this Caesar apart was the thin, crisp wafers of chicken skin – similar in taste to pork scratchings, but not nearly as salty or as damaging to your teeth. Like the anchovies though, there wasn’t quite enough chicken skin for my liking.
The Euro Hedgie continued his fish theme with a main of monkfish. The tender, delicate chunks were milky and lobster-esque. Served alongside them were crunchy kernels of puffed barley with a mild aniseed-like flavour. Although the barley complimented the monkfish well, the Hedgie couldn’t shake the feeling he was eating a posh version of rice krispies with his fish.
My medallions of iberico pork may have been chargrilled, but only just enough to sear the crust. The interior of the meat was quiveringly pink and tender with a subtle woody sweetness. It was accompanied by wrinkly, salty greens and small cloves of tender, but tasteless garlic. The pork was still delectable though, especially when taken with the drizzling of creamy sauce and the crispy crumbs of something which I couldn’t quite identify.
The starters and mains were generally a success, but the same couldn’t be said of our sides. The fluffy sweet potatoes were excessively, mouth pursingly sweet. Meanwhile, the nuked florets of broccoli were far too mushy.
The elaborate-looking Carrot Chiltern is really just a carrot cake. A really good, fluffy carrot cake topped with orange and shavings of purple carrots, but a carrot cake nonetheless. The Euro Hedgie found it pleasingly similar to one of his favourite Viajante desserts.
My own dessert of a citrus tarte was far less elaborate-looking but more layered and interesting. A crumbled zesty, lemony sponge melded beautifully with the sweet, crisp, refreshing, distinctly clementine-flavoured custard sandwich.
The Chiltern Firehouse can never live up to the celeb-fuelled hype that has surrounded it, but its dishes were for the most part surprisingly simple yet flavoursome. It’s well worth visiting - especially as it’s far cheaper than Viajante ever was. Even so, it’s not an impulse dining option – besides the difficulty in snagging a reservation, it’s far from cheap at around £72 per head including soft drinks. Nonetheless it’s a great choice for an elegant yet casual meal. As long as you can put up with the celebs.
What to order: Cod; monkfish; iberico pork
What to skip: The side dishes
Name: Chiltern Firehouse
Address: 1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA
Phone: 020 7073 7676
Opening Hours: call to confirm
Average cost for one person including soft drinks when shared between two: £72 approx.