February 21 2014
Pedigrees abound at the much-anticipated Chiltern Firehouse. The hotel itself is André Balazs’s first London venture, joining a gloriously chic family that includes LA’s Chateau Marmont, New York’s The Mercer and The Standard Hollywood. The cuisine, meanwhile, is the province of Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes, who spent 16 years in the US training under such lauded chefs as Wolfgang Puck and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and who leaves his Michelin-starred restaurant Viajante in Bethnal Green to produce American-influenced dishes for foodies and film stars.
The building – on the corner of Marylebone’s chic Chiltern Street – is a triumph of Victorian-gothic architecture, built in 1889 and lovingly restored by Balazs. A Grade II-listed fire station, its old fire-brigade lantern winks through the London twilight to guide guests in. After passing the impressive gates and a squad of tartan-clad desk staff, diners are cheerily whisked through to the ground-floor restaurant.
A large, open kitchen dominates the room, with raised seating along each wall, while a great marble bar by the door briskly turns out fresh cocktails. There’s no fussy tasting menu here. Instead, during a soft-launch visit, we demolish delicious snacks (crab-stuffed doughnuts and crispy beetroot blunts) while perusing the menu.
Fresh, light starters (around £11) offer neat, standout twists that combine Mendes’s Portuguese and central American influences. Sea-trout crudo with yellow mole and coriander is particularly good, as is steak tartare with pine nuts and chipotle, and squab with warm grains, redcurrants and chicory.
Mains (£19-£28) combine contrasting textures and aromatic flavours. There’s a chargrilled Ibérico pork with roasted garlic and lemon, crispy-salmon-skin and beet risotto, and an incredibly succulent slow-roasted short rib with hazelnut purée and bone marrow. Finally, delightful desserts (around £8) include frozen apple panna cotta with herb granita and dried meringue, and a winter sundae with poached rhubarb and milk ice cream.