Weekend in the Country…
Butterflies in Flight
Don Quixote’s Donkey
NHYM’s version of Wisteria Lane
Where…‘Big Brother is watching you and guests should refrain from wearing corporate attire’
Shoreditch House, Hotel and Restaurant
Ebor St, London E1 6AW
Overall: 4.5 stars
Hotel Service: 5 stars
Amenities: 5 stars (Highlights include the Cowshed Spa & Rooftop Pool)
Rooms: 4 stars
Value for money: 4.5 stars
1 small room per night £265.00
Food 4 stars
Service: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 4.5 stars depending on who you sit next to
Value for money: 4 stars
‘You’re going far.’ Our Eurocrat single Hedge Fund Founder Friend sarcastically commented when we told him we were staycaying in East London for our 6th anniversary. He was clearly childless. It had been 8 months since the birth of Baby X and I was dying for some time away with Mr. C. Unfortunately, there are granny-nanny wars going on at the moment in Casa NHYM and we are unable to leave Nanny Y with our two yummy daughters for a whole week, so we have opted for an overnight London ‘staycation.’ We had previously stay-cay’d at the Berkeley Hotel after M’s birth, but it was such a baby-blur that I don’t even remember going. After looking down a list of 5 star hotels and feeling rather underwhelmed, I had the brilliant idea of trying out the Shoreditch House Hotel, which is half the price of any 5 star hotel in London, and sounded perfect for our needs.
I received multiple confirmation emails for my room reservation, including the House Rules, which ended with this statement: ‘Finally, we foster a non-corporate atmosphere. To preserve this casual environment, hotel residents should refrain from wearing corporate attire and are also responsible for ensuring their guests abide by this rule.’ I had applied to be a Soho House member on various occasions, but like the British driving test, I failed at each and every attempt. But I am a writer! I dejectedly wanted to defend myself. Perhaps they had Big Brother cameras everywhere and knew that I was a NHYM and my husband was a ‘Suit’, and that I come from a long line of ‘Suits’ (The New York Soho House famously dis-membered 1,500 suits after its first year, which caused outrage in the Wall Street community).
Therefore, when I entered the lobby of Shoreditch House, I was intimidated but prepared for the looming ‘No Suits’ sign at the ‘lobby,’ slightly afraid that Big Brother knew that Mr. C would be coming straight from work in his ‘Suit’. Welcome to the Big Brother East London House. There are two separate receptions, one for the Members Club and one for the hotel as well as two separate elevators. I was welcomed by a super cool chick at the hotel reception, who could have been my new BFF if she’d let me, and was absolutely lovely. She showed me to my room and immediately sent up a bottle of Prosecco when I mentioned that it was our anniversary (Ok, so Prosecco’s not really my drink, but I can’t complain when it’s free).
The Room: S*x and the East End City
The room itself, although called a small room, didn’t feel too small unlike some city hotel rooms (ie. Tribeca Grand), and had a warm, ‘lived in country,’ Hamptons-white-shutters feel to it, not too fussy with clean, white lines. I was particularly impressed with the bed and thread count (nothing worse than going to a hotel with a hard bed and the linens giving you a midnight body scrub). I also liked the old school black telephone and the bathroom products, all from Cowshed Spa, which she told me to ‘use as much as you can while you’re here, but you’ll have to pay for them if you take them home, so lather up!’ Then, I saw in the multitudes of cotton buds, combs, toothbrushes and earplugs, a neat packet called ‘Condoms.’ It was as if someone was reading my mind and knew why I was here. How did they know that all I really needed was a room without the threat of a nuclear baby breakdown, a phone that probably didn’t work, a good bed, and some extra protection for some out-of-the-West-End-World s*x to get my mojo back? Big Brother was really watching.
The 5th floor Bar and House Kitchen: A lesson in East End Hipster Style
When Mr. C. got dressed for dinner with a white collared shirt and blue blazer, I hissed at him ‘You can’t wear that! They’ll kick us out!’ ‘What are you talking about? I am sure everyone will be in the Mayfair uniform here’. He responded. ‘Trust me, put on that Zadig & Voltaire skull & bones sweater and those ripped jeans and you’ll be fine.’ As we arrived in the 5th floor Bar, I was clearly right. They forgot to put in the reservations memo that all men should be wearing the hipster uniform: cropped hair with long beards, lumberjack shirts, skinnies, and black combat boots. I kicked myself thinking that I could have flown Mr. C over to Brooklyn for a quick beard-implant-make-over to play the part.
The 5th floor is huge and we went for a walk-around looking for a table to sit, first passing the bar area, then the ping pong tables (‘When did ping pong get trendy ?’ I asked Mr. C. ‘It’s been trendy for the past 5 years!’ I am feeling un-cooler by the minute), the delicious looking display of Mediterranean inspired food looked divine and the back lounge area was already all filled with more hipsters. We finally found a table in the bar area and were greeted by a waiter: ‘Do you have your membership card?’ he immediately asked Mr. C, who handed him our temporary card from the hotel and I turned to him ‘See, they know we don’t belong here!’ I am feeling overdressed with my IRO jacket and wearing Mayfair earrings that I am about to take off, when Mr.C tells me to get a grip, so I silently gulp my Green Machine instead, which is excellent (Kiwi, Banana, Mint and Spirulina), fascinated by the Hipster Scene.
The 6th floor Roof Terrace Restaurant: Who needs Christian Grey when you’ve got Daario Naharis?
I can finally breathe better on the 6th floor, which is more my style. We are seated in close quarters between two couples on either side. On my right is a mixed Indian/British couple in their late 40s, the man looks like a skinny version of Anish Kapoor (Has he been on a 5:2 diet? I wonder), the woman is British and both are lovely and smile to us as we arrive. On my left are two men who look like they are on their first date, slightly nervous and trying to impress the other. One is a good-looking, East End kind-of-guy, and across from him is a slightly uptight, trying-to-be-cool, American Jew. It was an odd combination, I thought to myself, until I realise who the street guy was – I kick Mr. C and un-subtely point at him. Mr. C is clueless when it comes to celeb spotting and this one is a hard one so I am very proud of myself. It’s Daario Naharis from Game of Thrones! (Not the current one played by Michel Huisman, but the original who I later find out is called Ed Skrein IRL. I only recognised him because we just finished Season 3 in preparation for the upcoming Season 4 on Sky). Daario aka Ed Skrein is steaming sexy in Game of Thrones with his long hair, bulging muscles and overbearing confidence and charisma, you could just imagine him throwing you over his shoulder and bringing you back to his lair before you could even say ‘Oh, Daarioooo!’ Here at Shoreditch, he fits the part with short, cropped hair, in East End Hipster Style, so it is his teeth I recognise. (I have a thing with teeth and can recognise people by their teeth alone. I know, weird but wonderful).
(courtesy of the internet)
As I am eating my delicious quinoa and sweet potato salad starter, I realise that this is going to be a dinner where Mr. C and I might as well not talk to each other because the conversation next door is so much more interesting than ours could ever be. This is man-to-man territory and an insight into what men really say to each other over dinner. Ed and his friend, whom we shall call L.A. (as he turns out to be his LA agent/lawyer, not sure which), start their conversation very sweetly by talking kids and wives and sharing photos of their 3 year old. I want to join the conversation and show pictures of M too and how cute she is but luckily stop myself. Then comes their interests; travel (L.A. recommends Brazil ‘the women are incredible there, you’ve got to go),’ which seamlessly drifts to football and the World Cup when Ed Skrein mentions his football team, Liverpool. ‘Is that Liverpool here in London or the Beatles Liverpool? Ed politely replies ‘Liverpool as in the Beatles Liverpool.’ ‘Well I know there is a Liverpool Street here and all’ L.A. naively and somewhat ignorantly comments. They talk about their similarities and their differences, where they grew up, both wanting to be musicians, Ed in North London, L.A. in South Florida among the retirement community. L.A. talked about desperately wanted to be a musician but his Jewish parents wouldn’t allow it, so he went to law school instead, like a good Jewish boy, before heading out West.
The talk from there went on to Ed’s future career and his current films. L.A. told Ed to prepare himself because his life was going to change drastically and that he was going to be a huge star. This was probably the script he spat out to every new, young, rising star (He mentioned how crazy Josh was at the Cannes Film Festival, I assumed he was talking about Josh Hartnett, as it sounds like L.A. specialises in hearthrobs). L.A. told Ed that his role was to build his brand, to protect him and his reputation. ‘Stay true to who you are, don’t accept any film roles just because you’re all of a sudden getting an avalanche of film roles.’ I google Ed later and find that he is replacing Jason Statham in the next Transporter movie. He has a number of movies in the pipeline, including Tiger House, Kill your Friends and Transporter 4, which would be the one to launch him into Superstardom if the movie is a hit, but by the success of past Transporter films, it is almost guaranteed. This is the real reason why he left GoT, I am convinced. By the end of dinner, I have been too enthralled in the conversation so have completely forgotten about the food. The menu delivers standard fish, pizza, and meat dishes and does what it intends to do; good, solid, reliable food that you can come back to, day after day.
As their dinner finishes, Ed Skrein gives a toast: ‘May today be better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today’ which I thought was quite endearing (He can whisper that in my ear any day), but Mr.C found it incredibly cheesy, but that is probably because he knew that I was secretly wishing Daario would swing me onto his shoulder back to his lair tonight.
Day-time at Shoreditch House: Sneakerheads at a Sneaky Show
Day-time in Shoreditch felt like I was in the Meatpacking district without the 7 hour flight and jetlag. After a very good Eggs Benedict at the 6th floor restaurant surrounded by brunching young families, we ventured out into the East End, which for me, was a first. We went like tourists to Spitalfields Market where we saw a 50 yo Chinese couple playing ping pong before opening their stall, wandered to Brick Lane where street artist Fanakapan was graffiti-ing elephants, and saw a never-ending line of people near the Truman’s Brewery, wondering which concert they were waiting in line for. I asked someone who looked like a man-in-the-know what they were waiting for and he told me: ‘A sneaky show.’ I am of course conjuring an x rated, sneaky, exhibitionist show in my head but had to stop myself as the attendants looked way too young, so I ask him to explain: ‘It’s a trainers market, people come here to see, trade and buy trainers like special edition Nike and Reebok.’ (The next day I ask my part time nanny what she did over the weekend she tells me that she was at a convention. ‘What kind of convention?’ I ask, when she shows me her newly acquired, impossible-to-get, black Nike high tops, that the ‘sneakerheads’ have all been clamouring to get. Wow. Where have I been? I thought sneakers were left in the eighties).
We finished off the morning with a coffee at the Boundary Rooftop, which is by the way, one of the best rooftops in the city, before Mr. C surprised me with the best pedicure in my life at the Cowshed Spa. Post-pedi, we headed for lunch around the pool, another Green Machine and Quinoa salad for me and a pepperoni pizza for Mr. C, which was unfortunately nowhere near as good as the Diavola Pizza at the Oak. I wanted to jump in the pool but Mr.C dissuaded me, ‘You don’t know what’s been in this pool’ although I am thinking that there’s nothing a little Vodka can’t clean. By the afternoon, the families had disappeared for a nap and the hipsters had exchanged their skinnies for board shorts, swanning around looking like Russell Brand, Florence the Machine and Alexa Chung (although I think it really was Alexa Chung, judging by her Hipster entourage). The scene was ‘young and cool’ against ‘Cityscape’. There was also a good gay scene, noticed by us when a young, lithe-bodied, Adonis answered the waitress when she asked the usual, ‘What can I get you?’ with: ‘A boyfriend, please. Preferably a good-looking one’.
As we left Shoreditch Hotel, Restaurant, Pool and Spa, we smugly felt that we could still hang with the ‘cool’ crowd, that is, until we saw a big graffiti outside fobbing off Shoreditch wankers and realized that we had just dropped one echelon of coolness again (although, street artists like Banksy are very happy to pick-pocket ‘Suits’ any day). Shoreditch may not be everyone’s scene, but for 24 hours, it made me feel like I had been away for a week and got my Mojo back with the help of Big Brother’s hipster scene, 500 thread count linens, condoms and Game of Thrones hotness.
1. Best for A-list New Year’s Eve Party: One & Only Reethi Rah
Reeti Rah is like a private island for the super-rich. As soon as you arrive on the island, you are surrounded by CEOs of investment banks, fashion houses, Formula 1 and hedge funds. (Not to mention the Russian oligarchs who leave their wives with their bodyguards while they go to another island to see their mistresses). Only on Reeti Rah Island is there a 100 person waiting list for the Christmas – New Year’s week and NYE party for those too cool for St. Barth’s and guaranteed to be paparazzi free (even Mustique has been papped, but Reethi Rah is still virgin territory). Supermodels, fashion designers, hedgefunders, and CEOs congregate for the countdown, wondering how the new year could be even better than the last. Everyone knows each other and conversations at breakfast are about international real estate, mega-yachts and private jets. Even dropping £100,000 on two Grand Beach Villas during the Easter Break and organising a lavish beach BBQ with grilled lobster and Dom Perignon flowing all night won’t guarantee a place at the New Year’s Eve party. It is a teenagers’ paradise, who can roam freely on the island, ordering cocktails on daddy’s tab, travelling on bicycles to mingle with other super-rich teenagers and staying all night star-gazing, both at Orion and real superstars.
2. Best for Robinson Crusoe Romance: Gili Lankanfushi
Stay in a Crusoe Residence, a 250 sqm stand alone villa in the Indian Ocean only accessible by your own motorised rowboat moored on your villa’s private pontoon (My personal favourite, although I am biased as it was my honeymoon destination). Everything can be done from your villa; snorkelling, star gazing on the upper deck, watching stingrays around your pontoons, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on the different decks, your own open air shower, and anything else you can think of… The hotel only has 45 gigantic, overwater villas in total so expect to spend days without seeing anyone else but your fiancé/husband/lover/child bride.
3. Best for Knowing what to Expect: Four Seasons Kuda Huraa
One of the best Canadian exports, after Ryan Reynolds, the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa is a wonderfully, lovely resort with beautifully appointed rooms, a very nice kids club and very good food (especially the grilled lobster on half board). It is perfect for the travel risk-adverse, knowing that you will get great quality without any unhappy surprises (unlike when we went to the Touessrok Mauritius resort which was a big disappointment compared to any Maldivian resort). It is popular with groups of young, 20 something, moneyed, future billionaire Chinese, who hop over for a long weekend from Shanghai or Beijing. Its only problem is that it is like Ryan Reynolds: beautiful but boring.
4. Best for Low Key Luxury: Cocoa Island by COMO
‘Simple yet sophisticated, contemporary yet indigenous, and always deliberately restrained’ as described by the hotel’s website, Cocoa Island prides itself in its uniqueness and understated luxury. Instead of glamping, stay in a Dhoni suite, a villa inspired by Dhoni boats, the local fishermen’s sailboats, decorated in blues and whites reflecting the soothing colours of the Indian Ocean. With only 35 villas, this small island is perfect for intimate privacy.
5. Best for Barefoot Luxury: Soneva Fushi
One of the original luxury resorts in the Maldives, Soneva Fushi is the perfect castaway island, with beachfront villas dotted around the island privatised by the surrounding jungle and trees. ‘No News, No Shoes’ is Soneva Fushi’s mantra, like all Soneva resorts, so crackberries and android phones are best left at home. It excels in rustic chic, with warm colours of orange, browns, and yellow, blending in with the birds and tree houses.
6. Best for Huevos Rancheros Breakfast: Taj Exotica
Taj Exotica is one for the foodies. The Taj has the best breakfast Huevos Rancheros in all of the Maldives and its chef strives to perfect local cuisines working with local organic products. Taj Chefs have their own ‘Food Philosophy’ striving for culinary innovation ‘at the heart of the Taj Hotels dining experience’. After catching your own line-caught groupers and snappers during the sunset cruise, the chefs will prepare the fresh, grilled fish to perfection for next day’s lunch, which doesn’t get fresher and more blissful than this. (It is one of the few resorts where I would recommend the beach villas over the water villas, which are small and close together relative to the other Maldivian water villas).
7. Best for Minimalism meets the Royals: Cheval Blanc Randheli
LVMH’s new luxury hotel has already bagged its marketing campaign by inviting Prince William and Kate to stay at the Cheval Blanc and letting the media do the rest. It is the biggest Maldivian opening in years. Straight lines, modern art, white minimalism and exorbitant prices will appeal to the Nouveaux Riches, Royals and Russians, and is already at the forefront as the most O.T.T. hotel in the Maldives. Alchemists, ‘genuine experience designers’, create and compose ‘bespoke and unique experiences for their guests.’ Seriously?? This is one hotel that takes itself way too seriously. Hopefully, it won’t become a ‘Russians Only’ resort, hotels so expensive that only Russian oligarchs can afford, but personally I find that the minimalist, extreme luxury takes away from the Maldivian charm, which is a real shame.
8. Best for ‘Affordable’ Family holidays: LUX* Lighter. Brighter.
Ok, so no luxury hotel in the Maldives is really affordable, but by booking through the British Airways combined online flight and hotel booking system, you can get a week’s stay for less than £10,000 including flights and accommodation for a family of 4, outside school holidays, which in the Maldives is a bargain. The Play Kids Club and Studio 17 Teenagers Club are open from 9am to 9pm. Need I say more? For some peace and quiet, diving and massages, the all day kiddy entertainment will keep them occupied all day long. And with 7 restaurants to choose from and 4km of beaches, they will never get bored.
9. Best for Cool and Trendy: W Retreat & Spa
A playground for adults with its own resident DJ, underwater weddings, WET Pool Parties and mixologists creating signature cocktails, this is for those looking for a bit of nightlife and cool factor. Expiration Date: Kids.
10. Best for Underwater Spa: Huvafen Fushi
Housing the world’s first underwater treatment room, indulge in the LIME Light Crystal Ritual for 180 minutes, their signature underwater experience involving a coconut, lime and mineral massage and ice cubes, while watching triggerfish, stingrays and clownfish dancing around the lagoon making you feel like the Little Mermaid. The Per AQUUM resort and spa has ‘stand out, one-off events, bringing musicians, artists and creative stars from around the world’ each month. Currently, you can create your own Irma style Avatar with creative artist Jasmin Kherzi and view their Phantasy Fairytale Underwater art exhibition in the Spa. If that doesn’t take you out of this world, nothing will.
Designed by Notting Hill Neighbour, Dominic Harris, director of Cinimod Studio
** Please read my post Spotlight on Notting Hill Neighbour Dominic Harris: https://nottinghillmummy.com/2014/03/27/spotlight-on-notting-hill-neighbour-dominic-harris-interactive-light-designer-and-artist-2/ **
Where… ‘Everybody is treated the same!’
1 Chiltern Street, Marylebone, London W1 7PU
Food: 4 stars
Atmosphere: 5 stars on Saturday night
Service: 4.5 stars
Design: 4 stars
Price/Value: 3.5 stars
Overall: 4 stars
Chiltern Firehouse is so talked about and its gates so photographed at the moment that I am getting palpitations from my FOMO (fear of missing out), fuelled by my frustration and jealousy that I still haven’t been since the opening a few weeks ago in February. Already, they rejected my first email reservation demand with an automated response in January pre-opening, turned down my ‘table for 6’ reservation in February, and finally I am allowed a 6:30pm reservation on a Tuesday night in March. I wonder if they have a log of all my pleading and desperate emails and phone calls and whether they will hold it against me. Yes, I am pathetic, and seemingly have nothing else to do, but let’s face it, I am not Bradley Cooper or Kate Moss or Guy Ritchie or Noel Gallagher or Bono or Stella McCartney or Andre Balasz himself. I have no VIP pull whatsoever, but merely a persevering and determined attitude that can take you a long way in America, which is where Andre Balasz found his fame as a hotelier.
Andre Balasz, the mastermind behind the glitzy and glamorous hotels Chateau Marmont in LA, the Mercer in New York, and all the Standard Hotels (one which houses the infamous Boom Boom Room), just to name a few in his collection, will now prove whether he has the Midas touch in Europe as well (unlike Keith McNally’s rather spectacular failure of bringing Balthazar to London which you can read about in Giles Coren’s review of which London restaurants should be shut down). So far, the midas magic is working. He has attracted every A-lister and tamed the biggest lions of the foodie world, with MC (master critic) AA Gill giving it 4 stars for both food and atmosphere, akin to getting a First in Chemistry by a beady eyed, unsmiling Oxford chemistry professor. But it is his collaboration with Executive Michelin starred Chef Nuno Mendes that may be the key to the success behind the Chiltern Firehouse restaurant. Nuno, the hirsute experimental ‘food artist’ who trained for years in the US, is known for offering diners a unique culinary experience, both in the carefully prepared and invented dishes, but also in the entire dining experience. Here, he says that it is a place to have ‘fun’ and ‘about the experience as a whole and the social experience of being in this room.’ It is with this vision that Andre found the right chef to head his kitchen in his Marylebone boutique hotel.
Marylebone is an interesting choice of location for this new restaurant and hotel, but upon further inspection, may prove to be a very canny and strategic move. Chiltern Street is now becoming a very chic, discrete, and cosmopolitan destination helped by Portman Estate’s financial injection and Chiltern’s arrival. As I arrive early evening on Tuesday, I discover independent boutiques and cafes lining the street, which would be favoured by A listers choosing to stay in the hotel. I am greeted by a cheerful and courteous doorman in a top hat and fancy coat standing by the gates who, unlike red-velvet rope-keepers who usually thrive on their power trip, welcomes me to a ‘home away from home.’ Once past the gates protecting the impressive pre-war Gothic fire station, I find myself in a beautiful courtyard full of daffodils and spring flowers in large terra cotta pots, a Garden of Eden, which will become the jewel in this hotel’s crown this summer.
Once inside, I am greeted by a lovely, ‘modelesque’ hostess with Nyong’o Lupita looks and another pretty hostess milling around, looking pretty. Both are almost too nice, but it comforts me into thinking that I really do belong here. It is as if all my hard work and dedication has paid off and the red velvet rope has been lifted, finally letting me in the club. I immediately head to the bar and am surrounded by ‘rah rah’ handsome city boys and foodies who have snuck in without a reservation desperate to taste Nuno’s nibbles at the bar. I order a ‘Dashamour,’ their signature non-alcoholic drink (now called a Green Goddess), which immediately becomes a firm non-alcoholic favourite with its refreshing apple and mint combination. The bar waiter with chiseled features out of GQ magazine is forgiven for looking clueless and inexperienced when I ask about my reservation because he is so easy on the eye. There is staff everywhere, ensuring everyone is well catered to, but in a charming rather than overbearing way. Andre is already scoring points with the impeccable, attentive service and good looking, enthusiastic staff. He has created a ‘model’ service imported from New York and London restaurants have a lesson or two to learn from it.
While waiting for my darling French friend A who is joining me for dinner, I ‘up-and-down’ the dining room, which is slightly a puzzle to me. I agree with AA Gill’s description of ‘weird.’ My first impression is that the main dining room manages to feel small and homey despite its multiple levels and brasserie-meets-warehouse-in-NY feel, but I don’t like the upholstered ceiling, looking up makes me think I am in a psychiatric padded cell, so I decide not to look up for the rest of the evening, which thankfully doesn’t deter from my ‘experience.’ The dramatic open kitchen is elevated above the main dining room with counter seating for the foodies to salivate as they watch bearded chefs create food magic. There are indoor trees along the back of the booths adjacent to the bar which adds to the ethereal and mystical appearance of this dining room. Groups of people wander towards what I later find out to be the kitchen and loos, both to worship the almighty Nuno, and then to escape through the magic doors in the loos to a secret smoking den.
A, whose famous alter ego is Angelina Jolie with her luscious lips and Jessica Rabbit eyes, is already being charmed by the waiters as we sit down, who all seem to be French. We hear a lot of ‘Mademoiselles’ and feigned disbelief that we are both married and yummy mummies. They know how to speak to women, these Frenchmen. The experience continues when we read the menu, which is casually printed on paper, and has words like ‘tiger’s milk’ on it. I see round, wooden plates delivering the food, realising that the whole ‘experience’ is rather casual for a Michelin star chef, which is a refreshing break from starched white tablecloths and forced-stick-up-the-ass waiters. Like a docile sheep, I copy AA Gill’s dinner order and ask for the Crispy Chicken Skin Caesar and the Shortrib with Hazelnut puree and Marrow. The caesar salad is good, although the dressing is a bit on the thick and sticky side and the chicken skin tastes like chicken stock crackling, not displeasing, but overall it is not the best caesar I have ever tasted. The shortrib is melt-in-your-mouth tender and succulent but is too heavy for me to finish. My apple granita and panna cotta is light, sweet and tart and is my favourite dish of the night. Nuno Mendes is at the helm tonight and makes an appearance, scanning the dining room from his kitchen perch, but does not look very relaxed, too pre-occupied with giving his foodies the spectacle they have come for.
The problem with restaurant reviews is that they are dependent on a) what dish the reviewer chooses, b) what the reviewer likes and c) whether chef is having a good ‘chef day.’ I decide that the meal has been very good, but perhaps not as mind-blowing as I would have expected from all the reviews and press. I decide that I need to come back to ensure I am providing an accurate review of the place. After dinner, we meet the charming maitre d’, Darius, and A tries to use her charm:
‘So, what do we have to do around here to get priority booking?’ She winks and he starts laughing and we know this isn’t going to end well.
‘Ah, the magical question I get asked every day. We treat everybody the same!’ he laughs away with a friendly, apologetic but poker face. We all laugh together knowing this is an absolute lie, but we understand the unspoken. Even if you look like Angelina Jolie, you still won’t get the A list priority booking telephone number.
Luckily, I know an M.I.P. (more important person than me) who uses his obscure LA connections to get us a booking on a Saturday night, albeit at 6pm, but for 6 people, another impossible feat for mere earthlings like you or me. The vibe on Saturday is somewhat different. Tuesday was filled with a majority of foodies, and a glamorous, eccentric, slightly older crowd, whereas the age range has dropped by a decade on Saturday and the beautiful people have arrived, flitting around, buzzing like bees on flowers in search of Nuno honey. We are seated in a booth with a view of the kitchen in the background and when 6pm turns into 8pm, Lilly Allen is sitting in the booth next to us, Louise and Jaime Redknapp sit at 2 o’clock from us, Billie Piper is behind us at the bar, and David Beckham is waiting for our table. We are sitting in prime real estate and Chiltern is a ‘who’s who’ of London. For a small moment, I am convinced that I am a VIP, drunk on the vibe which feels like I have been let in a member’s club exclusively for celebrities and sometimes allow NVIPs (not VIPs).
Dinner this time is a revelation. I have the crab doughnuts which are good, but it is the grilled octopus and wild mushrooms that I have been looking for. Delicious, divine, and delectable. The monkfish is also very good, but the rhubarb sundae dessert to me is another standout dish. The words ‘rhubarb sundae’ makes me think of a TGIF in the middle of the Cotswolds and those words don’t come close to describing what the dish represents. These are the dishes that have made Nuno famous and a Michelin star chef, and make you scramble for the telephone as soon as you leave to make your next reservation, so addictive they are. And as I leave the gates of heaven at the end of the night while my MIP friends are chatting up and getting a selfie with David Beckham, I am dreaming of trying the fried chicken bites, the DIY Japanese style steak tartare, and the Chargrilled Iberico Pork.
Andre has scored a ‘home run’ with Chiltern so far, as they would say in ‘Noo Yawk.’ He has scored the right chef, the right location, the right henchmen, and the right PR machine to create a dining room that is becoming the Chateau Marmont of London. The next day, I call for a brunch reservation thinking they may be more generous with their daytime reservation handouts and hoping to get a courtyard table, but can only get a 1:30pm Sunday reservation in two months time with no outdoor seating guaranteed. Other friends looking for an evening reservation only manage a 6pm booking on a Monday in July, when all the VIPs fly off to Club 55 in St. Tropez for the summer, reminding us that we are still merely just NVIPs. On our way out, Darius tells us not to worry, the frenzy will eventually die down, but from what I had ‘experienced,’ there didn’t seem to be anything that could slow down what is turning out to be the biggest restaurant opening in the decade. For once, my FOMO was justified.