6-10 Bruton Street
Tel. 020 7495 7100
Food type: French
Food rating: 8/10
Nearest tube: Bond Street
Website: The Square
The new year is upon us and there was not much sign of the much talked about credit crunch… well not when I had a look at the prices some of the restaurants had the audacity of charging especially as most of them only have a ‘special’ (read: no options, but we can charge whatever we like) New Year’s Eve menu. For instance, Alain Ducasse @ the Dorchester were charging somewhere around the region of £395 for their NYE menu. So instead of an evening out for a nice, pleasant meal, J and I decided to stay in and enjoy some roast chicken instead. Not a bad idea when it was absolutely freezing on NYE.
To make up for the lack of excitement over the New Year period, we decided to treat ourselves to a meal at the Square. This is yet another restaurant that I have been meaning to try for ages, yet bagging a table here is more difficult than getting a table here can be more difficult than getting decent food in Ashford. Yes, I am currently placed at Ashford which is absolutely devoid of any culinary destinations in makes Nottingham seem like the culinary capital of the world. There is actually one decent restaurant located in an obscure village in Biddenden, but without a car, I do not fancy my chances travelling there via bus which runs a grand total of 4 times a day.
I’m sure most of you have read enough about the Square restaurant in other reviews, about chef Philip Howard and how he was a self-taught chef, so I am going to spare you the long introduction and instead get down to the review itself.
The Square is located on Bruton Street, the restaurant itself can easily be missed as you might mistake it for an office building around the area. The signboard itself is camouflaged by the brown coloured wall. As you enter, there is a small sitting area opposite the bar, garnished with royal purple sofas where you can enjoy an apperitif or perhaps an after dinner drink. The main dining room itself is spacious with the white tables accompanied by the unmistakable Damier pattern (see Louis Vuitton if you do not know where I am coming from) chairs. Brown seems to be the theme colour in this restaurant with different shades of the colour on the floor and walls. A few abstract paintings hang proudly on the wall – a motif which is replicated on the plates.
The menu consists of many interesting items which you actually want to eat. Along with some of the signature dishes are some more recent creations which of course includes the ever changing Fish of the Day. The menu is certainly well composed and makes for good reading. Prices here are high as you would expect from a 2 Michelin star restaurant. 3 course dinner will set you back £75, with a tasting menu available for £95. A business lunch menu is available Monday to Friday at £35 for 3 courses.
Nibbles were brought to us while we were perusing the menu. These were beautifully presented on a wooden block. A Parmesan Sablé had a nice crumbly texture with a good crunch – the saltiness and the nuttiness of the parmesan coming through with just a background hint of sweetness right at the end.
A small cone filled with foie gras was rich and smooth, with good liver flavour coming through. The biscuit tuille well made and perfectly crisp.
Less interesting was the beetroot flag which is probably the most eye catching of them all. The thin sliver of beetroot is stuffed with a mild goats cheese mousse (shame on me for not asking which but my best guess would be Crottin or something similar). The beetroot was glazed with balsamic although this was somewhat muted by the sweetness and slight acidity of the beetroot. Incidentally, this dish is a miniature version of a similar dish enjoyed at the Ledbury which is incidentally the sister restaurant to the Square.
A smoked salmon roulade is perhaps a wee bit different from the ones that you can pick up at your local supermarket. Here the smoked salmon and dill are wrapped using a thin crêpe. This was executed well although perhaps a predictable combination to generate much excitement.
A herb risotto beignet resembled the Italian Aracini. The beignet was virtually greasless with tender, but not mushy risotto rice packed full of flavour.
My favourite canape of them all was the simple anchovy frazzle. I admit I am a huge sucker for anchovies (even those disgusting cheap tinned ones) so to see a restaurant bold enough to make use of it speaks volumes. The anchovy frazzle is, if I may be excused for using my crude language, salted fish on a stick. The fish providing small bursts of saltiness to match the rich, buttery pastry. The nibbles were overall around 7/10.
There were three types of bread on offer – raisin and walnut, brown roll and mini-baguette. Unlike many restaurants in London, bread is made on-site. You can tell that a lot of love and care was put into the making of the bread with very good, fluffy texture and a lovely crunch to it. Of these, the brown roll was probably the best (8/10 for both brown and baguette) and the raisin & walnut bread lacking that extra touch of salt (6/10).
The crab lasagne was introduced to us as ‘one of the oldest dishes at the Square’. 3 layers of green coloured parsley pasta, interspersed with carefully picked crab meat, sat elegantly in the middle of the plate surrounded by the frothy shellfish cappuccino. The silky smooth pasta with a grassy hint of parsley was a marriage made in heaven for the sweet, delicate crab meat. The shellfish bisque was deep, rich and intense giving both body and flavour to the dish. If there is a thing to fault with this dish it is that there was perhaps a slight heavy-handedness with the making of the pasta which could have been just that fraction thinner. Nevertheless, this was easily one of the best dishes of the night and it is easy to see how this dish has stood the test of time. (8/10)
Another signature dish at the Square is their langoustines served with a parmesan gnocchi and potato and truffle butter. Unfortunately for us, langoustines were not available on that day and it was substituted with king prawns, but using all the same trimmings. Two, nicely deveined king prawns sat atop a small Parmesan gnocchi and potato and truffle emulsion, garnished beautifully with chanterelle mushrooms and shallot rings. A ‘cheffy’ dollop of field mushroom puree finished off the dish. Each individual component of the dish was perfectly cooked from the light and airy gnocchi to the perfectly timed prawns. Yet somehow, this dish felt like the sum of different, albeit well executed, parts. Perhaps this was due to the substitution of the langoustines with prawns. I am of the personal opinion that substituting the main focus of the dish is never a good idea in many cases as it somehow tips the balance of a dish. I think this remains true with this dish as king prawns simply do not have the same sweetness and slight brininess that the best langoustines possess. (6/10)
Foie gras was prepared sous-vide (vacumn packed and cooked in a water bath) before being glazed and finished off in the even. This resulted in a near molten interior and an exterior which had the intensity of the citrus and port glaze. This sat atop a pear and apple compote and was finished off with rice krispies and candied pineapples. I found the addition of rice krispies interesting and a stroke of genius because it adds the illusion of a crunchy texture to the foie gras which would not have been obtained without pan-searing the liver. I also liked the puree of roasted pineapple and lime jelly which added different types of sweetness and acidity to complement the liver. (7/10)
Halibut was crusted with Beaufort, a hard cows milk cheese similar to comte. The halibut was correctly cooked, maintaining its moistness while still having that slightly meaty texture. I was quite wary of the beaufort crust to begin with but I became a true believer having tasted it. The sharpness of the cheese made sense here since it did not completely overwhelm the fish. The vegetable minestrone was also very enjoyable – the clear broth consisting of celery, carrots and artichokes provided a gentle cleansing and refreshing background for the fish. (8/10)
Roast saddle of hare was also executed very well. Well rested, thin pink slices of hare sat on top of a tarte fine. The hare, with its distinct strong and earthy flavours was served with a bold green peppercorn sauce which gave the dish a gentle bite and helped cut through the buttery pastry perfectly. This was matched by the sweetness of the pear, beetroot and roasted shallots and the grassy and slightly earthy notes of the celeriac puree. (8/10)
Following the successful hare dish was the venison which was a slight let down. Whilst the cooking of the venison itself can’t be faulted, I could not detect the faintest hint of smokiness in the venison itself. This was served on a bed of butternut squash and chestnuts which lent some textures to the dish. Execution of the red wine jus was flawless but to be honest, this seemed like I was eating the same dish that I enjoyed at the Ledbury (without the pleasures of the venison sausage). (6/10)
The cheese course was an interesting afair – Fourme D’Ambert, one of the oldest French blue cheese from the Auvegne region, was presented in 3 different ways. First, and my favourite of them all, a small amount of the cheese was added to the celeriac and pear mousse to give it a salty tang. This was served with an ewes cheese biscuit which is to be dipped into the mousse. Second, the crumbly cheese were served au naturel accompanied by thin slivers of radish, peppery rocket and pickled green peppercorns. Here, you can taste the natural saltiness of the cheese with a hint of background sweetness coming right at the end. Lastly, the cheese was deep fried and presented as a beignet accompanied by a small dollop of beetroot puree. Upon biting into the beignet, the almost liquid cheese comes oozing out. The cooking process of course tones down the intensity of the cheese. (7/10)
Another signature dish, this time a cheesecake is made with Brillat-Savarin. Brillat-Savarin is one of my favourite cheeses (after Epoisses) and I love it as much for its taste as well as its versatility in dessert making. The cheese itself hails from the Normandy region in France and is named after the 18th century polical figure and gourmet, Jean Anthelm Brillat-Savarin (‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are’ a quote by him may ring a few bells for my long standing readers) This is a triple brie cheese (read: only 75% fat) and unlike most bries, it is faintly sour and can sometimes have a sharp taste. Making a cheesecake using Brillat-Savarin makes absolute sense with its inherent natural richness. The cheesecake was not a looker by any stretch an imagination but tasted like any good cheesecake should with a crumbly biscuit base, rich and creamy vanilla scented cheese filling and a passion fruit jelly with just the right amount of acidity to cut through all 75% of athreosclerosis inducing goodness. The small piece of cheesecake was accompanied by a mango puree. Be aware that the tasting version of this dish does not come with a citrus terrine unlike its ALC brother (8/10) (N.B. they should serve a statin pill with this dish)
We finished off with a soufflé of dates and caramelised oranges. The soufflé was technically well executed, rising the ideal one third above the ramekin. The combination of the toffee-like dates and slight bitterness of the oranges was inspired especially with the addition of the creamy and nutty almond ice cream. If there was a slight complain it is that the soufflé was a touch wet for my liking. (6/10)
Petit fours was a selection of very enjoyable selection of jellies (lemon curd, pineapple, pear, orange etc.) and salted caramel truffles. (7/10)
The level of cooking here was pretty consistent with most dishes around the 8/10 level. The cooking here is classical making, using high quality ingredients, keeping flavours clean and simple. More importantly, the use of foams was kept to a minimum (ie only when it is needed). Throughout our entire evening, service was pleasant with our servers constantly smiling and always accomodating. (That said, our sommelier gave us the impression of a strict headteacher) This is of course contrary from many reports that the service at the Square can be abrupt and at times confrontational. No such thing here as they were more than happy to give us a break after our mains and we were never rushed at any point throughout the evening. They were happy to pack up J’s share of petit fours as she was too full to eat them. Simply put, the word ‘No’ was never in their vocabulary. In short, our experience at the Square was a pleasant and enjoyable one.