Here then is Gatsby’s house, after an invasion by the Daily Mail. It is called the Chiltern Firehouse. It is a restaurant in a newly opened hotel in a Victorian Gothic former fire station in Marylebone, a proud and grimy district in total denial about its shocking levels of air pollution. The building has a fairytale intensity, with red brick turrets; it is a Roald Dahl prison repointed to its extremities by the man who made the Chateau Marmont in LA. The chef is Nuno Mendes, formerly of Viajante.
But what else? Ah — now we are sucked into a wind tunnel of paps and buzz; like so much nonsense, this is media-led, the media having so little to do that they must write about the Chiltern Firehouse. In this, I am complicit. What is the critique, limp or spirited, but another revolution in the cycle of churnalism, nepotism and ennui?
Outside there is a gate — an actual, non-metaphorical and enormous gate — and a huddle of freelance photographers, with staring bystanders and dazzled diners getting in and out of people carriers. The street looks washed, as if God spat on it and licked the tarmac clean. Photographers are soul-stealers by trade, and their faces show it: they look lonely and grizzled, with expressions of vague, dilapidated spite. They are here because the Prime Minister visited recently (he has moved on from Oslo Court and will shortly, hopefully, be appearing at STK, the steakhouse for rapists). But why wouldn’t he be here? He is a shire Tory. He has no taste of his own and must be told where is fashionable. If only that were the worst of his crimes.
Thousands of words have been written on the Chiltern Firehouse door interaction. Here is my testimony: I have a reservation, I say. Let me in. OK, says a man with an earpiece; a man in a Marxist cap (ha! so witty!) waves me through. No password. No nudity. No angels sing and dust me with bad cocaine. I am not papped for Albanian Hello!
Gatsby’s house has a garden with plants. It is very clean. As one journalist remarked — and this passes for a scoop these days — ‘cool’ people are smoking in this garden; everyone is a teenager now. Inside it is unremarkable, a crowded space in pales and woods, with booths and a bar wound around the kitchen; this is social hierarchy delivered via bar stool and booth. The staff are beautiful, with astonishing facial hair, but the only really remarkable thing about the Chiltern Firehouse, I decide, after two hours of inhaling next to women with excellent hair and their mates, who stylistically channel Charles Saatchi, is the astonishing smugness of its clientele. Smugness should be on the menu. I have a small yacht — £13. I once sat next to Ian McKellen in Business Class — £21. Etc. We are in and you are out. We are the hot peas from the Birds Eye advert where attractive peas (non-Jews?) could join a country club and the misshapen peas (Jews? Or immigrants generally?) couldn’t. This is self-satisfaction; self-satisfaction masking a self-hatred they are unaware of, and for which I care nothing.
The food, meanwhile, is wonderful: imaginative, beautiful and somehow loved. Nuno Mendes transcends his customers, as men with knife skills often do. The Caesar Salad is excellent, with its insanely over-analysed crispy chicken skin; the pig is fragrant and delicate; the pale green risotto is a wonder. Mendes watches the room, and scatters his plates with flowers.
And so, spiritually speaking, the Chiltern Firehouse is Dorsia, the restaurant of Patrick Bateman’s murderous dreams. It is the land beyond Nando’s. We will always have Nando’s, as Rick didn’t say in Casablanca; and we will need it. This will not last. It never does.
Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street, London W1U 7PA; tel: 020 7073 7676.
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