I've been trying to get a table at Chiltern Firehouse for a few months now, but their bookings system is so tricky that I've only ever managed to be offered dodgy times like 3pm on a Tuesday. A constant presence in the sidebar of shame thanks to celebs falling out of there left, right and centre has not helped. The chef there, Nuno Mendes, has a reputation to be reckoned with and the crab doughnuts he created for Chiltern Firehouse achieved cult status quickly. So, after a lovely day of brunching and lunching I was literally beside myself with excitement when I worked out the taxi for my surprise birthday dinner was heading towards either Chiltern Firehouse or Locanda Locatelli: both of which I've been dying to go to.
Of course we started with the crab doughnuts. They're part of the 'nibbles' section, pre-starter:
They're a curious (but excellent) fusion of sweet and savoury flavours and are just the right size for nibbling with a glass of something whilst you survey the menu. We were also tempted into some glorious fried chicken and were very glad of it - it was even better than the doughnuts, with the chicken just on the right side of pink and insanely juicy.
There was an amazing bacon infused aioli that arrived with the chicken, to great effect:
We were already having a *great* time by this point. We had been seated in a nice little booth from where we could survey the entire room (no recognisable celebs despite primetime Friday night table) and every single one of the waiting staff was charming, friendly and funny.
Time for starters. Rich had a brilliantly smoked eel, which was soft, pliable and nicely oily with very discernible fumes. It came with a kind of remoulade of celeriac to cut through the richness:
I was taken by the jamon and greengage salad on the day's specials, which was dressed with something vanilla-y. Whenever overambitious contestants on Masterchef get the vanilla out for savoury dishes I'm rightly terrified, but in the hands of Nuno all was well and it added a layer of interest to a very pretty and super-seasonal dish:
Our starters came so quickly after the nibbles that we asked our waiter to hold our mains for a while - I hate feeling rushed when you're having a special meal. The downside of Chiltern Firehouse is that they are fiends for turning tables; our booking of 7pm was only until 9pm, which we were reminded of. Other than that, there was no problem. Following on from the delicious jamon, I went double piggy and plumped (definitely the operative word) for the amazing looking Iberico pork dish as my main course.
I have not adjusted the colours on the picture above at all, so you can see how rosy and pink it comes, with a beautifully charred crust from exposure to some properly decent heat. I got very into Iberico pork in Mallorca last year so was thrilled to see it coming out blushing like that; rare pork is becoming quite a thing now, and provided the meat is of high quality like these thoroughly spoilt acorn-fed pigs, its quite safe. The accompanying salsa verde-like sauce and fancy 'yeast crisp' (mmm!) were perfect with it.
Rich had the roast rack of veal with peach and hazelnuts, which was also just heavenly. The side of creamed corn should also get a special mention, if only because you hardly ever see the humble sweetcorn on menus, save for in cob form.
Having finished our mains and glugged down the best part of a bottle of a nice Chilean Pinot Noir, we found there was somehow still space (and table time!) for pudding. The table next to us had evangelised over the 'Milk & Honey' - a shorthand description for some ways with honey, honeycomb, chantilly cream and the like. It was very lovely.
The post-modern key lime pie was also exemplary, and Rich who has eaten many many of the things in actual Key West, said it was the best he'd had.
The sommelier proved her weight in gold with the dessert wines she matched for us, and the Riesling in particular was utterly superb. I must track it down and buy in bulk immediately.
We were made aware - politely - that our table would soon be needed back, but that was ok as we were finished and he brought us a glass of complimentary champagne each to soften the blow (obvs Rich had mentioned it was my birthday). The bill came and I didn't even look at it as I imagine it was hefty, but look how happy I am in my ignorance:
We shuffled off to the bar area to continue the party, but so many other people clearly had the same idea that it was really cramped and annoying to be constantly jostled. I'd recommend the bar across the road instead.