At the start of May I managed to get a reservation at Andre Balzazs’ very exclusive Chiltern Firehouse. Astonished that I was able to secure it as I only gave about a week’s notice. High five for laymytable. It was of course for a special occasion, my boyfriend’s birthday. I had given him the choice (by way of a quiz) of Ceviche, Hakkasan and Chiltern. He actually chose Hakkasan but once he knew what was on offer, he changed it to Chiltern. Understandably. Who wouldn’t want to rub shoulders with celebs and dine at the restaurant voted number one in London? Me, that’s who.
I know you’re probably gasping at this, that I could possibly disagree with the who’s who of society and all the people clamouring to get in. But maybe, just maybe, the reason half the models that frequent this establishment are so skinny is because they don’t eat the food…it’s merely a place to be seen. And with a backdrop of a building that is truly breathtaking and a concealed restaurant to the side of an enchanting courtyard, of course it’s a hotspot.
The staff are from the school of Abercrombie, pretty, dim and don’t have the first clue about the food or how to wait on tables. They’re nice though, wanting to please and obviously easy on the eyes, but a place like this ought to have staff that know this inside out and have been trained at a level that sits higher than your expectations.
The food…ok here we go.
There’s a pre-starter menu called ‘From The Kitchen’ and as this is very modestly priced we tried a couple of dishes, they also made a mistake with the order so we wound up with one more to try.
The Crab Stuffed Donuts with Coral Dusting (£6). This is one of their signature dishes and they have been written about in excess. I realise I’m fueling that by writing more. Imagine this. Get a doughnut, suck all the flavour out of it, put matter in the middle that tastes in no way like crab or that has any flavor whatsoever and serve with a sprinkling of dust. Yes, dust.
Fried Chicken with Smokey-Bacon Ranch Dip (£6). This was pretty boring, the batter was average, in terms of taste, a decent enough crunch though, in terms of texture. The chicken was not that soft, the dip neither tasted smokey or of bacon or of ranch for that matter, A flavorless form of wet.
The Cornbread Fingers with Chipotle Maple Butter (£2). These were very buttery, our fingers gleamed with grease, they were warm and a comfort of sorts, but nothing special. The chipotle butter was good, sweet with a hint of spice.
For starters we tried:
Firehouse Caesar, crispy chicken skin and parmesan (£10). This was really excellent. The chicken skin was delicious and gave you a glimmer of potential, the crunch was a welcome opposite to the creamy soft leaves and gave it some variety in flavor and texture. The saltiness of the chicken skin and parmesan gave it a real ‘bad food done well’ attitude.
Grilled Octopus with aubergine, daikon & mushrooms (£16). This was presented in a very beautiful and artistic way. Octopus is one of my favorite dishes and I’ve been fortunate to try it the world over. It can be effortlessly soft, like cutting through butter or when slightly over cooked it becomes chewy. When done right it is blissful. This was not. The flavor was good, a smokey hue to it and the mushrooms were really delicious, the octopus a little dry and over cooked. Unfortunately for me there was a big hair embedded amongst it and so with a slight loss of appetite, I sent it back. They delivered a new one, this time the octopus was a lot softer, definitely not the best I’ve had, but good. Even with the hair it was good to be able to taste two of the same dish, giving me evidence that this is hugely hit and miss. I was far happier with the second dish as the meat was cooked correctly. This should be correct every time. This is number one after all.
Then the main attraction:
If I’m honest, by this stage I was feeling full and a little bit put off, nobody likes to find a stray strand! We decided to share a main course. Monkfish Cooked Over Pine with puffed barley and fennel (£28). The fish tasted good, but the texture was a little off putting. It was slightly undercooked and had that hint of milkiness and chew to it. The barley was very strong with the flavor of fennel, a herb I always think should be used very lightly. I wasn’t a fan as the aniseed twinge was a little too much for me.
Nothing stood out to me as being out of this world, or breathtakingly perfect. The attention to detail when it comes to preparation times and cooking each and every dish to the same high standard was not evident and that, combined with the lack of training from the staff, made for a slightly disappointing evening. Part of that reason is most likely because the expectations, were of course, very high. Too much hype is never a good thing, never. Very rarely have I been pleasantly surprised by somewhere that projects itself as one of the cool kids.
Save your money and go elsewhere, Chiltern is not all it’s fired up to be.
1 Chiltern St, Marylebone, London W1U 7PA