By Laura Jemmett-Park on Aug 18 2014
The last time I checked, I wasn’t Harry Styles or Dougie Poynter. Nor was I dating either of them or, for that matter anyone else that appears on the Daily Mail Showbiz website. I do not know anyone remotely famous that would allow me to breeze in off the street ahead of the thousands of eagerly anticipating diners on the waiting list. No, I had to wait a few months just like everyone else for a table at the Chiltern Firehouse, despite the sincere helpfulness of the staff when booking. Initially I booked a table for lunch 6 weeks in advance. Unfortunately due to illness, we had to cancel the first booking. In an establishment that is very much THE place to see and to be seen in London, where I doubt many people cancel a hard-earned booking, I was pleasantly surprised when they tried very hard to find us an alternative date.
And so a few weeks ago, at the height of the heat wave (summer); we sweltered our way across London for brunch. Had we wanted to go for dinner, there is no doubt we would still be waiting a few months before we could get in. Dinner is obviously the most popular time to go for anyone wanting the slightest chance of rubbing shoulders with Suki Waterhouse or Lindsay Lohan on yet another night out there! (Apparently there is a secret bar open to models and ‘proper’celebs that mere mortals would find it very difficult to get into).
The Chiltern Firehouse opened in mid-February and belongs to Hotelier André Balazs, the man responsible for other celebrity magnets; the Mercer in New York and more famously, the iconic Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Since its’ opening it has attracted everyone from David and Victoria Beckham to Bill Clinton, David Cameron and Kate Moss and is therefore a paparazzi hotspot.
With the massive hype surrounding it, I have to say that I wasn’t expecting much - having been to a few other London restaurants ‘du jour’ and realising that some are simply about a reputation founded on a few famous diners and definitely not the food or service. I am ashamed to say that I was drawn by its’ reputation and deemed exclusivity like many others; the presence of good food would have just been an added extra.
The Chiltern Firehouse is located in a particularly beautiful street in Marylebone, with gorgeous red brick terraced townhouses and luxury boutiques. It imposingly sits at the end, in an impressive, sprawling old red-brick fire house (hence the name). Tall, black-timber gates protect the entrance and conceal the beautiful courtyard area behind. A member of staff stood at the gate greeted us and told us to go to the front desk in the courtyard. A second member of staff offered us the choice of a table inside or a table in the courtyard. Given the beautiful weather and still feeling in the holiday mode, my love of experiencing top restaurant interiors went out of the window and we sat down at a table in the pretty courtyard. There were raised timber beds bursting with bright red flowers everywhere, stylish black and white wicker chairs, bright red painted benches with cushions and large cream umbrellas. A huge feature fireplace filled one end of the courtyard with sofas positioned around. It was stunning and looked/felt very Mediterranean and just a touch LA.
The crowd was smart and fashionable and we think we even managed to spot the Director of the new Star Wars film who was staying at the hotel, sitting behind us. Every so often a highly glammed- up woman (wearing a body-con dress and skyscraper heels for brunch) hanging off the arm of a suit- clad man would stop the low hum of chatter as people turned and watched - waiting to see if they were anyone famous as they were led to the sofa in front of the fireplace. The waitress carried a
bottle of Bollinger on a silver tray to their table, as everyone, realising they were not famous, picked up their conversations. Despite the obvious glamour, it was still a fairly unpretentious and comfortable atmosphere.
The staff were extremely polite and unpretentious in their manner. As we sat down, we were asked if we wanted to start with a Bellini. Of course I said yes and my dining partner felt obliged to join me!
The brunch menu read more like a lunch menu and it was one of the most varied and delicious- sounding menus I have seen in a while. I was pleasantly surprised as I saw the food coming from the kitchen to surrounding tables. The most popular dish definitely seemed to be the crab doughnuts as they appeared on nearly every table.
We quickly ordered some and were very pleased we had. Fresh, sweet crabmeat sat on top of a small, light choux pastry ball, creating the most perfect bite-size treat. I would say these are definitely a must if you are planning a visit and it felt very civilised enjoying a crab appetiser as we sipped on our Bellini in the boiling hot midday sun.
Next up I had the smoked salmon which came on herbed potato cakes and was topped with a perfectly runny poached egg. Smoked salmon is a brunch staple for me and it was a nice change having it with something other than scrambled egg. The herb potato cake was perfectly brown and crispy on the outside with just a hint of herbs so as not to overpower the salmon, which was silky and delicate. The egg yolk fantastically balanced the otherwise dry dish. It was honestly one of the best brunch dishes I have had for a while and was also a satisfyingly large portion.
My friend ordered the spiced crab omelette which was light, very flavoursome and again used sweet flaky crabmeat with a delicate hint of heat from the spice. It also rather nicely came served in a hearty metal oven dish. I tried it and can confirm it was delicious.
We also shared a portion of fries – it was strangely liberating being able to order chips from a brunch menu. These were salty, thin and crispy and as good as any frites in Paris.
We enjoyed people watching as we ate in the colourful courtyard, bathed in bright sunshine. Once we had finished, we were offered the dessert menu. The desserts looked amazing and included frozen apple panna cotta, dark chocolate tarte with hazelnut ice cream and the Chiltern carrot cake with horseradish ice cream. Unfortunately we could not take dessert and ordered two coffees instead to prolong our relaxing meal. We were not rushed at all and sat for about an hour chatting over coffee.
I loved every minute at the Chiltern Firehouse. Even though anyone can go if they are prepared to wait for a table, it felt glamorous and exclusive due to the good service and the beautiful surroundings behind the big gates. I was so pleasantly surprised that the food was equally good and the menu was varied and included high quality, fresh ingredients. In terms of prices, the appetisers and mains were similar to most other high-end restaurants in London and felt quite reasonable. The Bellinis were not so reasonable but definitely added to the meal!
I would definitely recommend the Chiltern Firehouse for brunch/lunch, something I didn’t expect to say before going. It is the perfect place to enjoy a beautiful summers day in maybe one of the prettiest courtyards in London and we have already booked to go back for lunch - I am looking to see
what the inside is like next time. I will let you know how the second visit goes after we have been...in a couple of months time that is!