When I brag to my friends back home about London’s superior food scene I mostly refer to the fact that eating in the capital is better, smarter and more liberal than in any other city. Michelin starred food is not exclusively served in hyper-expensive and painfully uptight hotel establishments and those irritating dress codes are mostly a thing of the past. Instead tattooed, pierced and bearded chefs with a sense of insurrection repeatedly challenge and renew the establishment. The result of single gear enthusiasts sharing tables with city types while savouring the world’s finest and most innovative cuisines creates a sense of momentum that I instantly begin to miss when I take off in Heathrow.
Unfortunately to me Chiltern Firehouse reflected almost none of this emanation and might as well have been in an upmarket Heathrow destination such as Munich, Geneva or Paris – or in fact exactly where I found it, without the passport control, right in the middle of inexplicably expensive and segregated West London.
I avow that writing a negative review about a restaurant headed by a legend such as Nuno Mendes seems truly inconsequential, but his move from borderline Bethnal Green to exorbitant W1 hurts my infantile notions about London’s collective mutiny against the rest of the world’s weariness. The guy is one of the world’s best chefs but I can’t get my head around why he would be cooking here after he has been at El Bulli.
The food at Chiltern is very palatable but it doesn’t interest me. Sitting amongst the rich and famous I found nothing I haven’t made significant past efforts to avoid. Apart from the well-reviewed cornbread nothing felt indulgent enough. Instead everything was guarded and unnatural. Toned down. Polite. Un-dangerous. The service wasn’t attentive despite the army of staff. Prices are high and the clientele made me want to jump on a bike and get a pint. And some atmosphere. And some London. And even Noel Gallagher can’t change any of that.