We sit with Max Harrison, Chiltern House Maître d' who tells us a little bit about his career working at one of Marylebone's finest restaurants. Based in a former fire station dating from the 1880s, this refined, high-end hotel is surrounded by bars, restaurants and shops on the fashionable Chiltern Street. Max gives us some insight into 'his London' in the article below.
As Maître D’ of Chiltern Firehouse, can you explain what the job entails in your own words?
My job is very much about ensuring that peoples initial impressions of the property are positive - walking in to a restaurant for the first time can be a bit of an intimidating experience (I find this myself in my personal life) so I really want to ensure that people have a warm and friendly welcome when they arrive and are sat promptly whether they are a returning regular or a first time diner. 'Maitre D' is a French term derived from 'Maitre D Hotel' or 'Master of the hotel' which is a very non specific job description - this leaves you with a lot of leeway in terms of how you wish to approach the role and it allows me to apply my own ideas about hospitality as well as the ethos of our company into my day to day professional life which I really enjoy
How did you get into this line of work?
Actually it was very much by accident, I was given an opportunity by the owners of Bistrotheque which is a fabulous restaurant in East London very near to where I grew up. I started as a host at Hoi Polloi at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch which was opened by Pablo and David from Bistrotheque, I then became a Maitre D at that property after a couple of months and was hired by Chiltern Firehouse in 2014 very shortly after it opened. I'd always really loved restaurant culture but had never considered hospitality as a career before, it's such a wonderful industry when it is done right and I wish that I'd started a lot earlier rather than in my late 20s.
As Maître D’, you have eyes on the front and the back of the house and must have “seen it all”. Do you have any funny stories you’ve experienced that you can share?
After 8 years there are really far too many to recall any specifics I'm sorry!
What is the most interesting part of being Maître D’ at Chiltern Firehouse?
I absolutely adore bringing people together and introducing people who otherwise may not have met before. I've always been a very social person so it's a total joy to me to be able to have a job which is focused on ensuring that people have fun in this beautiful environment
What are some of your personal favourite menu items at Chiltern Firehouse?
I would stand up in court and say that our Oysters are the best in the world. Our Oyster programme is run by Bobby Groves who has a genuinely astounding passion for oysters, his cart is right next to my Maitre D desk so we spend a lot of time trying to make each other laugh. We were both hardcore teenage punks, him in Essex and me in East London so it's quite bizarre to us that we've ended up in this high end hospitality environment. I name a lot of our cocktails which allows me to flex my creative muscles a bit and I'm very proud that I named one of them after Lady Penelope from Thunderbirds who remains one of my absolute fashion icons
Working on one of the best neighbourhoods in London we want to get a sense of ‘Your Marylebone’ so we have some quick fire questions for you:
Favourite Gallery: The Museum of Everything on Chiltern Street
Favourite Shop: John Simons on Chiltern Street, it's the best menswear shop in the universe
Favourite Area: Chiltern Street! It's a genuine community
Favourite Restaurant (other than Chiltern Firehouse of course…): Jikoni on Blandford Street
Best place for a night out: I'm actually quite boring now and really value my sleep so I don't stay out late but The Barley Mow on Dorset Street is a proper boozer.
Best place for breakfast: Tasty Corner on Chiltern Street/ Blandford Street
Best kept secret: Timothy Everest MBE doing beautiful tailoring downstairs at Grey Flannel on Chiltern Street
Anything else you would want to let people know about the area?
Spend as much money in independent shops as you possibly can