Man About Town: Chiltern Firehouse and lesser-seen restaurant that actually lives up to the hype

  • @lukeblackall

It’s hard to avoid the Chiltern Firehouse. If you’re not hearing people talk about it, you’re reading about it: the media have embraced the venue dubbed the hottest restaurant in town in a way not seen since the Ivy or Nobu hit their peaks. Nightly, a stream of celebrities are captured by the permanent post of paparazzi positioned outside.

And it’s not just dominating the traditional media, it’s also unavoidable on the social variety too. These days, arriving somewhere fashionable seems to render even the coolest, low-key types into fan behaviour, whereby they have to let you know immediately via Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, that they are there. (I’m no innocent of course, as you can probably tell, I am letting you know I’ve been there via this column).

When Louis van Gaal started as manager of Manchester United this month, one of his first public appearances was dinner at fashionable Italian restaurant San Carlo. He could have headed for a pint in the city’s Night and Day Cafe and then for a kebab on Portland Street, but he perhaps felt that wouldn’t have helped him project the image of the sort of important local figure who likes to be seen in the best restaurants.

It might be simple to write a column dismissing the Firehouse as a mere celeb-magnet, but it really is good. The trio behind it: Nuno Mendes, Andre Balazs and Harry Handelsman have turned a former fire station into a spot where room and food combine to great effect. That’s not to mention the staff, who are both well-styled and very good looking – twice this week, I’ve heard female friends rave about the handsome doormen.

They have also found that elusive and ever-evolving, formula for attracting a crowd and a feeling of extreme exclusivity (there’s a bar at the back, which even if you have a much sought-after reservation in the restaurant, you’re not  guaranteed access to).

And so it is perpetuated, with demand outstripping the supply of seats – even though they are catering to 400-500 people and night – and booking future guests in months and years in advance. Which means, of course, that by the time most people get there, there will be a new place in town.