London's Hippiest Restaurant

The Daily Telegraph is reporting that The Chiltern Firehouse is the hippiest restaurant in London. Nirvana, they are calling it. It is the latest London restaurant to open with a waiting list so long that it covers roughly the gestation period of a small mammal - and that's just for the 6.15pm slot.

Their reporter says, ''It's a double glance around the glowing, creamy, open-kitchened, big-mirrored room with its happy roar of conversation and rattle of cocktail shakers. The first glance is in search of Kate (Moss), Cara (Delevingne), Kevin (Spacey), Bill (Clinton), or any other of the infuriating celebrities papped there in the long dreary weeks when the rest of us couldn’t get in. The second is to see if anyone has seen you. I wish I could say I hated it. Unfortunately it was flaming marvellous''. I'm told there are charming waiters dressed as Mumford & Sons and female staff gamely parading about in 100% synthetic playsuits. There is a fireman's pole, a real one, left over from the original Marylebone fire station and set into a 'feature' table in the corner. And they've done that very rare thing, got the lighting absolutely spot on. Everybody looks attractive!

And the owner? -AndrĂ© I’ve-No-Idea-How-You-Pronounce-It Balazs (the Americans seem to say ‘Balage,’ to rhyme with Farage) has been around a bit – his properties include Standard hotels in Miami, Los Angeles and New York, and the Chateau Marmont, to name but a few – and he is a stickler for detail. He’s sensationally well connected. There are two, if not three, PR companies involved with the Chiltern Firehouse. All of which helps to get David Beckham through the door, followed by top critics, most of whom seem to have given it dazzling reviews.

He’s also got a Grade II-listed Victorian-Gothic redbrick building in a charming, safe part of town, so that’s the bankers sorted. It’s his first restaurant outside the US, so there’s a sort of news angle. Finally – this is the masterstroke – it has an exterior wall at the front. A rather pretty redbrick wall with a guarded doorway out of which celebrities exit like bees leaving a hive, straight into the lenses of waiting snappers.

This won’t keep going for much longer, of course. They’ll all buzz off soon, leaving us with the place (delightful, especially the surprisingly spacious walled terrace in summer), the staff (friendly and sassy) and the food, which is, inarguably, superb. Toques off to Nuno Mendez (below), the head chef, who has conjured up American, Pacific and Mediterranean specialities into a short, assured menu, from translucent bream crudo – sounds like a Thames sashimi, but is clean and light with bread crisps as delicate as air – to a tiny octopus arm laid indolently on a bed of aubergine and fungi, and from Iberico pork with crispy, salty edges, pinged with garlic and made sensible by collard greens, to the panna cotta sharpened with apple and sitting on a bed of heavenly crunch.

It's easily £80 a head, which is excellent value for high-end London eatery, but a treat for most of us – I would love to go. But not until all those ruddy celebrities have stopped hogging the tables.

P.S. Should you still want (firemen’s) pole position, the table to book is number six.

Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA.


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