It's the hottest table in town, where the likes of Bono, Kevin Spacey, Cheryl Cole and David Cameron have been papped on the way out. How did the restaurant game the hype machine and what are the chances of getting a booking?

Even if you've never been, there's no escaping Chiltern Firehouse,London's newest and hottest eatery-cum-nightspot. Located in one of London's first purpose-built fire stations, nestled in a nightlife no-man's land between Marylebone High Street and Baker Street, it seems to be singlehandedly feeding the celebrity sections of the tabloid press, with headlines such as: "Lily Allen nearly flashes bum as she leaves Chiltern Firehouse ..." (the Mirror); "She likes to keep herself to herself, but even singer Adele couldn't resist the lure of trendy new haunt Chiltern Firehouse ..." (Daily Mail); "Another day, another star-studded reservation list at Chiltern Firehouse" (the Mirror, again); "Is there nowhere else? Lindsay Lohan rolls out of the Chiltern Firehouse again" (Entertainmentwise.com).

Is there nowhere else indeed? In the few brief months of its existence, the venue has been attracting names that will be familiar even to those who pretend to ignore the celebrity world: Bono. Samuel L Jackson. Courtney Love. David Beckham. Cheryl Cole. Kevin Spacey. Simon Cowell. Naomi Campbell. Chris Martin. Rita Ora. Aaron Paul. Michael McIntyre. Prince Harry's ex, Cressida Bonas (along with Princess Eugenie). David and Samantha Cameron. Even, in the words of celebrity gossip site Holy Moly, "Bill ACTUAL Clinton!"

However you look at it, that is an impressive guest list. But is the venue already becoming a victim of its own meteoric success? "I do think it's slightly tipped over the edge," says one fashion insider who prefers not to be named (they are, after all, still on the waiting list). "The celeb regulars have moved from being One Direction and David Beckham – great – to David Cameron and Gary Lineker – not so great. And besides, who can actually get a table anyway?"

Certainly not me. When I called up this week as an ordinary punter, the ever-so-polite woman taking bookings explained that … erm … Chiltern Firehouse was not taking bookings. Not for evenings, at least. "When's the earliest you think you will take bookings for?" I ask. "Not for the foreseeable." "Not for two or three months?" "Something like that. I'm really, really sorry." To be fair, she did sound very sorry.

And it's not as if its management has done anything wrong: if anything, it has done it a little too right.

"Look, it is a cool place, the decor is right, the food is right; it's not naff," says Sean O'Brien, managing director of AOB PR (whose roster has included both reality TV stars and luxury venues) and a former celebrity journalist. The "N" word – naff – is, of course, the one that everyone in this business is desperate to avoid. And the fashionable crowd that the Firehouse attracts is notoriously fickle in its loyalties. Remember hearing all this about the Met Bar? That's just a stone's throw down the road. The maître d' could almost shake hands with his former clientele as they traipse up the road to the next place to be and be seen.



If you’re not an A-Lister, you might struggle to book a stay at the Chiltern Firehouse (chilternfirehouse.com) until the hotel opens for public bookings. Other than the restaurant’s extreme popularity with A-listers, little is known about André Balazs’s latest venture, which is thought to be a higher end offering than his “Standard” US hotels. “I could easily spend the rest of my days in the private bar: a kind of Rick’s Café on a feast of Tropicana space dust,” says Melinda Stevens, editor of Condé Nast Traveller. 



The one thing that stands in the way of any approaching naffness is André Balazs. The Hungarian-born, American-bred hotelier is the very antithesis of naff. This may be his first property outside the States, but his portfolio includes the Mercer Hotel in New York, the Standard (with branches in Los Angeles, New York and Miami) and – the cherry on the cake – the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.

Linzi Boyd is the co-founder of PR company Surgery and author of Brand Famous: How to Get Everyone Talking About Your Business. In the book, she identifies a barometer to measure how successful your brand is, from word-of-mouth buzz to positive reviews and the length of the waiting list. She says: "Balazs has ticked every single box at the Firehouse."

The question, of course, is: how long can he keep it up? O'Brien gives it at least until the autumn (around the time the woman on the phone reckoned she could find me a table). But Boyd is more optimistic. "I'm not sure it will be that short. Chateau Marmont has been going for years – Balazs has an understanding of how to sustain that. But of course all that press attention can work to a disadvantage too."

"It's now joined the list of places where you'll always have paparazzi," says O'Brien. "Ahead even of the Ivy, Nobu and Scott's." In many ways that can be self-fulfilling, as celebrities tend to gravitate around a flashbulb, and will be firmly advised to follow them by eager PRs in search of a guestlist place for their charges.

But, as Balazs understands only too well, it is not simply a case of "if you build it, they will come" – more "if you build it right, the right people will come".

"They've got to keep their brand high up," agrees O'Brien. "And they're doing that. They've obviously kept out the wrong types so far, by and large. You just know they'll have had the Towie lot trying to get reservations."

Dan Flower, MD of Flower Media and formerly group creative director at Soho House, sees similarities between his previous boss and Balazs.

"The only people, pretty much, who get this stuff right are Nick Jones [of Soho House] and André Balazs," he says. "They both have this attention to detail – a need to have input in every aspect of the business. Nick would be telling the workmen how he wants the brass screws on the reception desk to look. It's the sort of thing that you wouldn't expect someone at that level to be doing. Likewise, a friend of mine said André was present at meetings about the different blends of wood they use to smoke their meat."



Such fastidiousness does not go unnoticed. In short, the Chiltern Firehouse has paid attention to the basics: it has the right backing, and it is in an area of central London that is now enjoying a mini revival. Countless luxury brands have relocated to neighbouring streets recently. There is also a smattering of celebrity locals: Noel Gallagher lives nearby – but so, O'Brien points out, do Barbara Windsor and Dale Winton. It has also convinced a desirable clientele not only to turn up at the door but – for now, at least – to keep coming back.

"The guy knows his food," admits O'Brien. "There's no doubt this place is going to be a huge success and anyone who's put money in it is going to get paid out in full. It's only the crowd that's fickle. Nobu still does amazing food, but they'll always want to go somewhere new." O'Brien identifies the first "phenomenal" reviews as decisive in putting the Firehouse on the map. "It was literally five stars everywhere. It created a cast of opinion-formers who jumped on board; people started saying: 'We've got a live one here.'"

Even the Guardian's Marina O'Loughlin, not a critic easily swayed by hype, describes the menu as being touched by genius, although she adds in her forthcoming review: "Oh, who am I kidding? Nobody's here for the food." It's certainly not cheap, but neither is it ridiculously priced for London. Mains start at around £25; wood-grilled rib-eye is on the menu for £36. Certainly, to someone like Bryan Ferry, a much-photographed regular, that's chicken feed.

And of course, the fact that Ferry is often there makes the price of your meal more digestible. That's the whole point. It has that element of theatre. There is a bar overlooking the main restaurant, where the great and the not-quite-as-great can bask in reflected glory; in the half-nods of acknowledgement that money can't buy. It's a truth universally acknowledged in all of London's best restaurants: people want to be seen to be seen.

"Look at the Wolseley," continues O'Brien. "Open-plan, but with an inner sanctum where people on the outer seats could look in. You knew that you'd arrived if you had banquette seating at the Wolseley. There's a hierarchy within a hierarchy and everyone can see each other."

There is, adds our discreet member of the fashion crowd, a "certain smugness about the people you see there ... but why not? Just by making it through the doors, you've been accepted: they've deemed you the right sort of person to rub shoulders with their famous friends."

"You've got to exclude people to be exclusive," admits O'Brien. "You've got to have reservations and, effectively, tell people they're not as good as other people if you want to have an exclusive space."

This particularly New York style of door policy is a Balazs speciality. As Flower puts it, "the other tiny little factor, of course, is having influential and important friends. When you're pulling in that level of crowd in the early days, they're loving it – getting great food and great service – and it genuinely feels as if there's a bit of a filter at the door, so there's not any Tom, Dick or Harry getting in there … that's what makes the difference."

The underlying message appears to be that if the paparazzi are not interested in you when you turn up, neither will the staff be. That might be a little harsh, but they would do well to heed the advice of fleetoffoot: "This place is so hip that some staff members have become a little too star-struck and forgotten that the little people are the customers who will come back if you treat them well. The celebrities move on."

Until then, the mood of the "normals" is best summed up by Rob K: "Unless you're a star, you'll be disappointed."

To be fair, that is not the Firehouse's problem. In fact, it is its USP. It is not designed for everyday people to wander into. But Flower does not believe that courting the press is particularly high on Balazs's list of priorities. "I  don't think he's controlling it; it's just that everybody wants a piece of it. I'm not sure there's a huge effort in trying to drive and manage the press, it's just that there's a certain swagger and confidence about these guys."