The Chiltern Firehouse



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Every year on my birthday we try and do something special and this year to celebrate J booked us a table at London’s newest celebrity hangout, The Chiltern Firehouse. Anybody and everybody who is worth their celebrity salt has been, so why should we be any different?

It’s famously difficult to get a table at but getting a table here for lunch was a cinch compared to Noma and that would be my recommendation, lunch rather than dinner. The restaurant oozes California cool and has that kind of understated elegance that attracts the eclectic moneyed crowd from all over London and I suspect the local Marylebone and Mayfair set use it as their local.

The main room has an expectant, excitable hubbub with everyone is on the lookout for famous folk and on this occasion, the best we could do was Meg Matthews, not quite the dizzy heights of The Ivy Club where I shared a urinal with Liam Neeson.

Attentive staff fuss and flit, focused on getting us served quickly (we were told they needed the table back in 90 minutes when booking, all the pricey/posh restaurants annoyingly do this). Service is sharp but not stuffy and a businesslike sommelier guided us to a medium priced South African Cab Sauv which I figured would be worth the investment (it was my birthday after all). It was chewy and rich with a reassuring deep dimple in the base of the bottle, my not very scientific way of knowing if any wine is good. Julie quaffed nicely oaked but pricey Californian Chardonnay by the glass and we were all set.

After randomly bumping into another guy from Leeds in the toilets (I know), we got down to ordering from the confidently brief menu, which featured restaurant safe bets alongside interesting asides. There is no outrageous risks to be taken here — it’s all safe territory but done very, very well. Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes clearly takes the view that internationally famous folk and the well-heeled like their food recognisable and translatable but with a bit of a twist.

That said the crab donuts were a stunningly original confection, salty, seafoody. sweet and doughy. I wanted to order another plate right after I’d eaten them.

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My steak tartare starter was a classic DIY blokey dish with some much needed hot sauce on the side whilst J’s starter of cured sea trout was the hands down winner in terms of taste.

I think my main of unsettlingly (very, very) pink Iberico roast pork was the winner although served with raw and cooked sprouts, it sounds bizarre but it worked fantastically well. J’s monkfish was a plateful of meaty, fishy tenderness with bright, clean flavours. On the surface, the Firehouse doesn’t look like its expensive but the booze soon escalates the bill into Michelin territory although I would say the food isn’t in the same league as say Murano, but the prices are in the same zone.

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So is it worth the hype? On balance I’d say yes. It’s definitely an ‘event’ restaurant, a place to go when there’s a special anniversary and for mere mortals the price point dictates it’s not an everyday restaurant. Food and service is at the top end of efficient and competent and you can definitely eat better in London for less money. But it’s the overall experience that lingers: the sparkling candlelit patio, outdoor fire, the crackle and buzz of a room filled with people enjoying life.

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Our London adventure

So we finally moved to London.

After six months in the planning, we packed up our house in Leeds and moved our life to the capital city. It was too good an opportunity for us to pass up and after lots of family discussions we decided that the timing was right for a change. Most people do it the opposite way round: move to London in their twenties when they have no ties (and no money I might add) and then move back home when the city has sucked them dry. We’re doing it the alternative way. Our eldest son was already working in London already and the girl is at University in Newcastle so there was nothing really holding us back and other family members encouraged us to go for it.

We rented out the family home in Leeds, which we’ve lived in for over twenty years and packed all our worldly goods into storage. That was quite a thing in itself, but all part of the process. In many ways, it was quite liberating to shed lots of stuff and de-clutter. Whilst that was happening, we went flat hunting in London. We had a reasonably clear idea of where we wanted to live — Shoreditch / Islington / Clerkenwell — all in North London and not physically too far away from where I would be working: I had a clear vision for a walk to work commute when I was working in the office. We wanted to be central but in the cooler areas where there was plenty to do and more importantly, areas we could afford to live in.

The property market in London moves lightning fast and flats came and went: in the end I saw a flat, outside our price range, but decided to go for it. It was in a great location and had plenty of space, fully furnished too. Julie hadn’t even see it and as it turns out wouldn’t get to see it for weeks, so it was a real leap of faith for her. Fair play — she just rolled with it, which has become a familiar theme for us. We moved in to Flat 13 (no superstitions for us about that number as I was born on Friday 13th) under two months ago so we’re still in the full flush of a honeymoon period, everything is still a novelty for us. But we’ve settled in well and with spring in full flow in London with summer around the corner, it’s great time to be in the capital.

We’ve never rented before so the trials and tribulations of having a landlord who has to OK everything is quite a new experience for us. We’re used to having the power as a home owner, but equally there is something quite nice about calling someone and the responsibility is theirs. It took time to get used to the noise too. Where we are is relatively quiet but very central and there is a constant background thrum that definitely takes some getting used to. Gradually we are tuning it out but initially it  sounded like a real cacophony. City dweller friends tell me you get used to it and I do believe them.

In the coming months, I’ll be devoting Deanoblog to our adventures in London. Over on Globetroffers.com, you’ll be able to track our foodie adventures — of which there will be many! If you’ve never lived in London then you’ll be able to experience it first hand with us and if you do live in London or have done in the past you’ll be able to point us in the right direction.

One thing is for certain: we will be completely focused on enjoying the journey without worrying too much about the destination.

Barbecue

Although the weather wasn’t up to much, we decided to fire up the wood burning bad boy bbq to cook off a butterflied leg of lamb.It had been relaxing in a delicious lemon, rosemary, thyme and chilli marinade for most of the afternoon so by the time the flames were ready it was well bathed in flavour. Butterflied lamb takes around 15 mins each side for a full leg and is a fantastic way to cook it – the charred edges bring a smoky resonance to the delicate pink meat inside.

Summer salad staples of roast fennel and zucchini were duly rustled up and added to the smorgasbord of delights and JD knocked up a rather delicious marmalade-glazed ham for good measure, which was an absolute delight: tender and sweet.

 

After the guests had deported we decided the fire was too good to waste. Although it was a tad chilly, we were able to sit around the fire until late, feeding the fire at regular intervals from our stock of well seasoned Sycamore and Ash.

These are the kind of evenings that make all the midweek hard graft worth it.

Bliss.

Weekend

I love weekends. I really do.

Whether it’s a weekend packed full of activities that leaves you even more tired on Monday or the lazy, empty weekends when all you want to do is lounge around – I love them all. Last weekend was a bit of combination of both. With the promise of a week off ahead the weekend was transformed from the usual ‘get it while you can’ of a normal weekend into a different thing altogether.

On Saturday not much happened apart from me venturing to the fish market to buy some spankingly fresh mackerel – the fillets were silky – and cooking it simply with tomatoes and thyme. We downloaded Midnight in Paris from iTunes and this topped off a very relaxed, some would say downright lazy, Saturday. I forgot – I dusted off the bike for the nice weather too, I’m determined to get out more on it this year after a pathetic show last year.

Sunday started slightly more energetically with a not too long but not too short walk with good friends D&G and a couple of cheeky pints of Leeds Pale at The Woodcock. Having dismissed this pub previously, we were pleasantly surprised. We must go more often. Out walking, I’m always struck by how lucky we are to live where we do: on the edge of Leeds, it’s very rural and we could be living in the countryside if we looked carefully, which we don’t very often. This means we can access nice walks without having to get in the car, which is a huge treat.

On our walk we cooked up the idea of a barbecue. The weather was bright but actually getting chilly again – we’ve been spoilt by this unseasonably warm spell – so we thought we’d make the most of it. The bad boy BBQ was duly fired up and we sat outside until late, eating and drinking far too much for a Sunday night. But being off the following day, we didn’t care one bit. The food was fantastic to say our feast was a cobbled together joint affair and the highlight for me was the scallops and chorizo with broad beans, not strictly barbecue food but delicious all the same.

Weekends, don’t you just love them?

This week

I thought I’d look back on what’s been a pretty good week. It’s not had the literal and metaphorical fireworks of other weeks I’ve had, but it’s been interesting, ordinary, extraordinary, tiring and dull in fits and starts. I guess much like most people, I take the rough with the smooth and this week’s been moderately smooth.

London

You’ll notice that in my job I do a lot of travelling to London and other glamorous destinations like Coventry and Northampton. It’s not New York I know.

Sure, travelling is tiring but in general I’m well catered for and unless the train’s cancelled of the M1 is closed for the day, it’s usually pretty easy. I can think of harder things to do and travelling is just getting yourself on a mode of transport in my mind. My theory is that because I don’t travel hundreds of miles every day, I’ve never really lost the thrill of it. In truth if I spent too much time at my desk, my feet get a little itchy. Like everything, variety is the spice of life.

Wine tasting

As far too regular customers of Majestic Wine, we were invited to their winter wine tasting this week.

We went earlier this year and it was quite pleasant so we accurately surmised this would be a good way to spend a couple of hours. As usual in these things, the wines were hit and miss in terms of what we liked, but generally it was interesting and stimulating to try wines we wouldn’t normally give house room.

What really tickled our tastebuds was the French aperitif Lillet, the small batch vodka Bison and the deeply flavoured rum, Kraken. As a lover of mythology, I didn’t need the Kraken legend explaining (giant sea monster/octopus) and after a couple of snifters, we decided it was Christmas in a glass.

Friday Picnic

I’d been asked by the rather lovely folk at Culture Vultures to attend the inaugural Friday Picnic event at Munro House in Leeds. Billed as ‘A Packed Lunch’ it was essentially a very cool combination of networking, lunching, consulting, sharing and chilling.

I attend a lot of typical business events and this definitely wasn’t one of them – and that’s good. As I’d come to expect from CV, it was impeccably put together (apart from me having to nail clipboards to the wall upon arrival 😉 –  with great attention to detail.

There’s some very good ideas emanating from Duke Studios (where the event was hosted) – especially #motherfrickinlaser – the coolest laser cutting machine in town. I predict a great future for this event: I can see it growing and growing. It’s a valuable addition to the business and cultural scene in the city.

Fulneck School Children in Need Challenge

After a busy week, our usual routine is to draw the curtains, open a bottle of something cheeky and lounge around in front of the telly. This week being Children in Need saw us supporting Fulneck School (with the lovely wife and I being member of staff, parents and governor all rolled into one package).

The girl was part of the Fulneck ‘Apprentice’ challenge team comporting against other schools in Pudsey to see how much Christmas mercy they can flog in one evening to the unsuspecting folk of Pudsey. It was really impressive to see all the teams selling like mad with techniques ranging from the subtle soft sell to shouting down a bull town to get noticed. It was all for charidee of course and although Fulneck were the well-deserved victors, it was a top effort. We tramped home thankfully for a warming glass to end a tiring but satisfying week.

Creating friendships, 140 characters at a time

I love Twitter sometimes.

This will be a controversial statement for some people and the world is definitely divided into people that get it and people that don’t.

For some it’s the epitomy of mindless social media: for people who can’t keep their own trivial nonsense to themselves and the territory of self-regarding narcissists. For others it’s endlessly interesting, a doorway into countless lives and a non-stop snapshot of every walk of life.

But that’s the attraction for me: the banal and the epoch-making, side by side. Revolutions and riots, gossip and tedium…Twitter has it all.

I realised from looking at my Twitter profile that I’ve been doing ‘it’ since late 2008, which in Twitter terms is probably a lifetime. One of the first people I ‘met’ on Twitter (we rarely meet our fellow tweeters) was a lady who lives in Santa Monica called Nancy. Looking back I have no idea how we connected – we have very little in common and didn’t have any shared connections at the time – it was just one of those serendipitous connections that has developed over the months into a Twitter friendship.

So when we were planning a summer holiday in California this summer, I thought it would be a cool idea to hook up with her. I’ve been in the mood for doing new things recently and whilst this didn’t feel entire reckless it felt like an interesting experiment, meeting up with a person who I’d only ever met through the frankly bizarre medium of social media.

One other thing – I would have the family in tow and once I’d sold in the fact that we were meeting up with a complete stranger over 3,000 miles away (which was remarkably easy) we were on for a seriously long distance ‘tweet up’.

Nancy was up for meeting and in that typically open American way, she couldn’t wait to meet up with us and ‘hang out together’. I on the other hand took a more typically British reserved approach: what happens if we don’t get on, what are the protocols on meeting, do we hug, shake hands…the list of reasons not to do it were endless, at least in my over-cautious mind.

But it stayed in the diary.

We’d arranged to call Nancy when we got closer to LA. She lives near the ocean and we planned to stay nearby and the plan was to call her a couple of days before we met to make the final arrangements. We booked into a cool hotel on Venice Beach and I called her. ‘You sound English’ she said and I confirmed that she sounded American. It’s odd when you talk to someone who you’ve written to so many times – they become real.

Nancy picked us up from the hotel and we proceeded to have one of the best days of our holiday. She took us to a local restaurant that we wouldn’t have found otherwise, we strolled in Santa Monica and gawped at OJ Simpson’s murder house and the conspicuous wealth of Beverly Hills. Turned out that we all got on like we knew each other for years. We laughed and joked and although we’d never met before this day, it seemed like we were old friends.

It’s then you realise that the people who follow you on Twitter know more about you than you actually think. If, like me, you use Twitter to share a wide range of things from work to personal life, it acts as a window into your life that in some ways can be more informing than a face-to-face relationship can be.

This might seem weird and a damning indictment on the way we live our lives (or mine in particular), it’s just the way it is. My wife jokes that if she followed me on Twitter she’d find out more about what I’m doing than I currently tell her – which isn’t actually true, but she likes to think so .

Twitter did something very cool indeed. Firstly it introduced me to a person that I would never, ever have met and secondly it pre qualified our meeting whereby we’d both had the chance to work out whether our day would work out.

And in the end it did. But we kind of knew that anyway, thanks to Twitter.