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Restaurant Review: The Square
Address: 6-10 Bruton Street, Mayfair
Chef/owner: Philip Howard
Michelin Stars: 2
The Square has been at the top of my “I want to go” list for a long time, second only to Noma. People often ask: “Why The Square? Why not The Fat Duck? Or The Waterside Inn?” I didn’t just pick The Square out of a hat, oh no. Many years ago I saw Philip Howard create a breath taking dish from the simplest, seasonal ingredients, during a rare TV appearance. I wandered why I’d not heard of this chef before, and where he worked, moments later I had my answer: He jointly owns The Square, and I hadn’t heard of him because he spends most of his time where all chefs should - in the kitchen.
Since that day I have often perused his ever-changing menus online. Each time drooling and fantasising over the day I would taste his food. Well that day came on my birthday in 2011. Making a booking was surprisingly easy, of course weekends and evenings were booked up for weeks, but a midweek lunch was available less than a week in advance. As the day approached I felt nervous, like a teenager on a first date, would Philip Howard meet my expectations?
The restaurant was stark and modern, large misted glass windows, marble walls and very well spaced tables. I wanted to try as many things as possible, so of course we went for the tasting menu.
Nine glasses of wine sounded daunting on a Tuesday afternoon, so I opted for the menu without wine, my dining partner, AL, thought I was bonkers and swore to drink for us both. I had a glass of pink champagne and waited impatiently for the first dish to arrive. Within minutes we were given warm date and walnut rolls with hand whipped butter:
Looking around the busy dining room I noted that the majority of customers were business people, all deep in discussion with their briefcases by their side. Where does one find a boss who takes his employees for work lunches at The Square? I’d barely started to explore such a fantasy when the roulade of octopus arrived:
This elegant little dish was as tender as a ripe avocado and as juicy as the blood orange it was prepared with. It had a scattering of delicate salt and pepper squid and a dollop of creamy squid ink taramasalata. It was perfect in its minusculness and left us wanting more, much more. Next up was the lasagne of Dorset crab:
OH MY, this dish was something to behold. I got a scent of it when the waiter was still ten paces away, the sweet yet intoxicating aroma danced across the room tantalizing our nostrils. It smelt so good I almost didn’t want to consume it, but my tummy thought otherwise, so I dove in. The lasagne was a tiny, moist, flavorsome dot in the middle of a mass of shellfish cappuccino and champagne foam. I savoured all two forks of the lasagne before devouring the remaining liquor. All I got from AL was a mixture of “ooh, aah” and the odd “wow”. When the plate was empty and we’d regained our senses we agreed that it was possibly the best thing we had ever tasted.
AL chatted for too long, in French, to the sommelier, while I worried about how the next dish could possibly live up to its predecessor. The arrival of the langoustine tail wasn’t announced in advance by its scent, as the shellfish aroma still lingered in the air, but its presence instantly demanded our attention:
Sitting ceremoniously on a single piece of delectable Parmesan gnocchi, was the most sublime Scottish langoustine. Cooked to perfection, the tail oozed its’ succulent juices as soon as the knife punctured the salmon-pink skin. But the true star of the show was the potato and truffle emulsion, this chocolate-brown cream was rich and earthy, the flavours traversed the depth of the mouth awakening each and every taste bud.
Three down, just one more starter to go. Of course the French man was getting excited as the roast foie gras approached:
It was pink in the middle with a gently seared exterior, its perfection verged on daunting. The foie gras came nestled on a bed of tangy yet nectarous rhubarb, with a dash of Seville orange puree and fleck of honeycomb. I loved the combination, but AL felt the sweetness over powered the precious foie gras: “Why disguise such perfection?” he disputed.
With four appetizers behind us we loosened our belts and prepared for the fish course. The fillet of monkfish on a bed of pearl barley was slightly bigger than the appetizers but still thankfully petite:
The monkfish was faultlessly cooked, tender yet meaty and firm. It came with a flourish of braised lettuce. I was slightly saddened that the flavour of the delectable monkfish had been disguised with an over salty sauce of lardo di collonata, this was otherwise a very pleasing dish. Then there was a welcome lull, we had been eating for over 2 hours, and still had half the menu to contend with. After another glass of fizz and a breath of fresh air, the assiette of lamb arrived:
I’d barely noticed this dish on the menu, after all its just lamb, right? WRONG! The lamb was mouth wateringly saporous, while the cauliflower croquette was creamy with a piquant bite. The finishing touch: A grating of ewe’s cheese and a dusting of spring truffle escalated the dish to another level. This was complicated simplicity in its finest hour, and a strong contender for the dish of the day.
I breathed a sigh of relief and regret, thinking we’d ploughed through the bulk of the food. Just a bit of cheese and a couple of bites of pudding to get through and we’d made it. So the tasting of Ticklemore and Tunworth came as quite a surprise:
What we expected to be two slithers of cheese and some crackers was in fact a mousse of Ticklmore cheese on a bed of chutney with a wine jelly:
I have never been so surprised or wowed by a dish in my life. The mousse was surely food for the gods: light, creamy, rich and refreshing all at once. The dish was finished with a generous helping of grated Ticklemore, I’ve never tried this cheese before, but I certainly want to have it again. It’s a pale goat’s cheese with a gentle flavour that dances around your mouth before enveloping your taste buds. We hadn’t even finished the Ticklemore when two elegant little parcels were placed in the middle of the table. The Tunworth was as equally surprising:
The waiter told us that Tunworth is an unpasteurised, creamy, yet full-flavoured cheese: “The British cousin to Camembert” he proudly announced. AL, snorted at this statement and pried the parcel open:
A mass of cheesy goodness oozed onto the plate, the air was instantly filled with a pungent, nutty aroma. They were every bit as good as they look.
I’d saved just enough space for the first pudding, a Cheesecake:
This velvety delight was made from Brillat Savarin, a decadent, triple-crème, gourmet cheese. The tangy passion fruit glaze contrasted beautifully with the mild, smooth centre, while the delicate flavours of the banana sorbet lingered on the tongue. Nearly four hours in and the end was in sight, when pudding number two appeared:
I thought the cheesecake was good, but this beauty surpassed even my exacting dessert standards. They said it was a rice pudding soufflé, but it seemed to smooth have any relation to rice pudding. The waiter placed the dish in front of me before plunging a spoon of pecan ice cream deep inside and adding a dollop of hot toffee sauce. The sauce and ice cream merged in the core of the soufflé causing the pudding to erupt, I looked on in awe as a calm volcano of goo eased its way across the top of the pudding and onto my awaiting spoon.
We’d had the finale of all finales but it wasn’t over yet. We still had to content with coffee and nougat:
I slurped my macchiato down and put the nougat in my handbag as a reminder of the meal, not that I could ever forget it. After a few questions and a bit of chat I was told that The Square opened in 1991, and was promptly awarded 2 Michelin Stars. It is for good reason, that 20 years later it holds firmly onto those stars, many, including me, believe it should be in the exclusive three star club. Our lunch was ridiculously expensive but worth every penny. And did Phil (we’re on first term names now) disappoint me? Absolutely not.