Like the ancient whore that she is, London is appealing and repulsive in equal measure. Beautiful, stately and glittering one minute, grey, washed out and tired the next. Rooted in deep tradition, she nonetheless unashamedly flirts with anything and everything that’s young, vibrant and on the edge and adorns herself with breathtakingly cool arm candy but behind the scenes, where the eye of the camera rarely reaches, she crumbles and breaks down.
Elsewhere, you may look at the pages of a fashion magazine and drool. In London the clothes together with their famous models walk right beside you in the street. Around 230 theatres offer you entertainment from Classics to Fringe, cinemas show all the latest films and every major and minor artist performs here. Museums and galleries show off their precious treasures and as many restaurants as there are stars in the sky present culinary delights of all flavours, greasy spoon hangover cures and everything imaginable in between. Not as dynamically fizzing as New York, as elegant as Paris or as chic as Rome, London still has that throbbing urban edge. The opportunity of being anyone you want to be and doing anything you want to do is available 24/7. The variety on offer is not just restricted to entertainment and life style, her population of around 13 million comes in every variation, every size and shape, every colouring, every conceivable hairstyle and sartorial expression, every belief system and a good 300 languages. She’s stimulating and exciting, vibrant and alive, ever changing, evolving, engaging, enraging. As beautiful and uplifting as it is to drive past the grand white pillared houses with their glossy front doors in Kensington and Knightsbridge or the sea of flowers in the Royal Parks on a sunny day, London also has a slimy underbelly: gang culture, knife crime, child poverty, homelessness and ghettoization are serious problems, tangled traffic snarl ups, an outdated transport system, a crazily high cost of living and permanently cold feet, just some of the substantial personal inconveniences. But there she is, London in all her gory glory.
The Chiltern Firehouse, 1 Chiltern Street, London W1V 7PA Tel.: (+44)20 7073 7676 www.chilternfirehouse.com ‘Hotter than the Surface of the Sun’ is how critics describe the currently hyper trendy, ueber fashionable, mega exclusive Chiltern Firehouse restaurant in Marylebone, located in an old fire station in London’s West End. Getting a table here is an impossibility for mere mortals and even C list downward celebs have to book their table a year in advance and then, they can be grateful to be admitted. It’s that hot.
Run by renowned chef Nuno Mendes who trained at El Bulli, was head chef at Bacchus and brought Viajante its Michelin star, being seen at The Chiltern Firehouse catapults you onto the stratospheric rungs of the social climbing ladder. Yes, dear reader, I went there. And not just any old evening, no, on a Saturday. Not for the 6.30 sitting for the less important people either, oh no, 8.30 for me. And not on a table in ‘Siberia’ but right there in one of the best positions of the joint. Little Moi! Would you believe it?! Right in there with the cool gang! Well, of course, I’d love you to think that all this came about because I am so fabulously A List that doors magically open for me. Sadly, this is not the case. I do, however, have a trump card up my sleeve in the form of a glamour puss girlfriend who is a stylist to the stars and she can pull a string or two. This she did in aid of her birthday celebration.
In anticipation of this momentous event, I glitzed and I glossed, I brushed and I flossed, then I donned my oh so casually thrown on chicest garb, my highest totter heels, a touch of lippy, a squirt of perfume and hey presto, ready to go! From the outside, you’d be forgiven for missing this restaurant completely were it not for the dozen or so paparazzi crowding the entrance. A friendly door man opens the door of your chariot, in my case, a rather dilapidated minicab, and escorts you inside. There you join the throng at the bar with barely a space to place your wine glass. Were there celebs there? I have no idea. I wouldn’t recognise Madonna in the flesh if she tapped me on the shoulder. Frankly, to me, it looked most likely that one might expect to bump in to someone from ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ or ‘London Wives’ but I’ve never watched those programmes, so I don’t know. By 8.50 and after several hungry reminders from us, we were finally seated on a banquette, far too low for the table, our breasts under the top and our little wrists waving up in the air. Now for dinner, oh joy! Not quite. We were asked whether we would like to order a snack to precede our meal. Hello? A snack? No, food, we wanted proper food, not some upsold pre dinner dips or whatever! The menu is what we wanted. Finally, it came, as did the wine list, but no nice bread basket. Maybe bread is a ‘snack’ at The Chiltern Firehouse? I ordered a trout crudo which, I was promised, was like a ceviche and, as a main course, monkfish with puffed barley. The crudo consisted of quite tasteless, rather thick, slightly oily chunks of marinated raw trout and was quite uneventful. The monkfish, too, was a little greasy and neither it nor the puffed barley had any flavour, nor were they properly hot. My friends enjoyed their barbequed octopus with mushrooms in a kind of Stroganoff sauce which they pronounced to be very tasty, as well as their succulent chicken and endive dish and their blackened salmon with spinach and cod’s roe. The salmon came with rather good, very crispy skin which I tasted and liked. The dessert menu was a disappointment. Everything on offer either had some sort of fancy ice cream (horseradish?!) or very rich chocolate or both. In the end, we settled for frozen apple panna cotta which was boring, chocolate tart which was bitter, rich and sticky and strawberry sundae which was okayish. Gosh, I hope those puds weren’t psychological reflections of the three of us?! Coffees were not hot, the bill came to £70 per head including two glasses of wine each and an automatically added £1 for the Action Against Hunger charity which was, on one hand, thoughtful but, on the other, rather condescending in that environment, somehow. I had a wonderful evening in terrific company with lots of warmth and laughter but as for the feted Chiltern Firehouse, it managed rather well to put out my flame. I’m glad I went but I wouldn’t beat their door down to repeat the experience.
Metro Garden, 9 Clapham Common South Side, London SW4 7AA Tel.: (+44)20 7627 0632 www.metroclapham.com In stark contrast, the next day saw a family Sunday lunch at the most delightful Metro Garden Restaurant & Bar in Clapham South. From the outside, the red façade looks scruffy and uninviting. You step inside into a dark and slightly dingy tiny wine bar and if you didn’t know the place, you’d well and truly doubt that you might be on the right way to Narnia but be brave and carry on through to the prettily fairy lit, tented conservatory, and then, if it’s a sunny day or a mild evening, on into the cute boho garden, complete with scatter cushions, climbing nasturtiums and forget-me-nots in randomly assembled pots leaning against the old church wall. And then, the Sunday roasts…..I salivate just thinking of them! Juicy chicken, lamb or beef or, indeed, veggie sausages, crunchy fresh broccoli, tender sweet carrots, crispy roast potatoes and parsnips and real homemade gravy, all hot and topped by a ginormous perfect Yorkshire pudding. Bliss and, in my humble opinion, by far the best Sunday lunch in all of London without a shadow of a doubt. The Sticky Toffee Pudding with ice cream and possibly the best coffee anywhere (how do they make it like that??) round off a perfect meal. Service is super efficient and friendly, there are colourful bottles of tapwater automatically placed on the tables, artisan bread with butter are in good supply and all this magic, including a moderate amount of wine, cost a mere £25 per head. Interestingly, both restaurants look insignificant from the outside and both operate a door policy. At The Chiltern Firehouse you are denied entry if you are not famous or well connected, at The Metro Garden, you don’t get a look in if you are pretentious, rude or drunk. The first offers tremendous street cred and Facebook brownie points but little culinary delight, the second charms the pants off you and leaves you happy and satisfied. As always in London, you have the choice.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London so
Well, maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go
I get a funny feeling deep inside of me
While walking up and down
Well, maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner
That I love London Town