So, last night, I had a Great Gastronomic Experience.
It was at the newly opened restaurant of the Chiltern Firehouse, the new project by star hotelier André Balazs. Nuno Mendes, previously of Viajante, is the chef, and this combination of Balazs and Mendes has made the Firehouse the hottest restaurant in town. Located in a beautiful Victorian gothic red brick building on Chiltern Street, Marylebone, it opened on February 20th, and such has been the buzz that it’s incredibly difficult to get in. Which is why rocking up without a reservation (albeit unwittingly) is a mindblowingly stupid thing to do. But it’s what I did.
This is what happened. Some of my Portuguese buddies invited me out to dinner. They are big Nuno fans (who isn’t?), so they’d initially tried Viajante and its sister restaurant the Corner Room. With Nuno’s departure, both are now closed. So they decide it would be cool to follow Nuno to the Firehouse.
They knew they couldn’t get in through the conventional booking route, so they made an informal arrangement with Nuno himself, who they know. I turn up before them, and present myself to FOH, and end up running through all the surnames of my party. No booking. The FOH, who looks a bit like a science fiction character, is incredibly professional and empathic – she looks me in the eye apologetically and suggests I call my chums. They arrive five minutes later, and soon realise that informal arrangements don’t work in a place so hideously of-the-minute and sought after, and so we have a drink in the bar. The staff are amazingly professional through all this, and after two hours we manage to score a table. By this stage it’s 10 pm, but we don’t mind.
What followed was two hours of incredible gastronomic adventure. Nuno’s food manages to be surprising, inventive, delicious and not at all gimmicky. This is the real deal. You’ll have to forgive the terrible iPhone snaps, but it’s hard to describe the food in words alone.
We shared all the dishes, and ordered just about everything. Some highlights (and this was really a succession of highlights) included the following:
– Little ‘doughnuts’ filled with crab meat.
– A DIY steak tartare, where the chopped steak comes with all the other ingredients (capers, shallots, radishes, egg yolk et al) which you then mix yourself. This was fabulous.
– Monkfish that had been cooked over charcoal and pine needles. Brilliant texture.
– Firehouse Caesar salad made with crispy chicken skin and parmesan.
– An incredible combination involving salmon roe and greens
– Grilled octopus with wild mushrooms and aubergine. Just lovely.
The sommelier was really good, and the not-overlong wine list has plenty of interest for geeks. We ordered two Rieslings (Maximum Grunhuas Abs Kabb 2011 and Pegasus Bay Bel Canto 2011) and a Nerello Mascalese (Graci, from Etna). These were all priced in the 40s, and were delicious. There’s a strong Californian section in the list (fitting in with the notional American theme of the Firehouse), but these were quite a bit more expensive.
I had to leave as midnight approached, so I missed the last few dishes. Still, this was an utterly remarkable meal, and worth waiting for.