6-10 Bruton Street
Tel. 020 7495 7100
Food type: French
Food rating: 8/10
Nearest tube: Bond Street
Website: The Square
Having eaten at every two star restaurant in London, I can count the Square and Le Gavroche as the best at this level, and probably London itself especially with the closure of one of my favourites, Ambassade de L’ile (Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road which I haven’t bothered to visit, nor do I have any inclinations of going any time soon, notwithstanding). Choosing a firm favourite between both can be more tricky although there is of course the fringe benefit of not having to wear a jacket whilst eating – something which I find most impractical especially during Summer.
My last visit to the Square was very satisfying although the portions here are nothing short of generous, and together with the freshly baked bread, we were struggling towards the end. In addition, due to supplier problems I did not manage to try their signature dish of sauté of langoustines. A revisit was definitely in order.
Cornet of Foie Gras; Squid Ink Crisp; Rice & Fish Crackers; Anchovy Frazzle
Nibbles saw a few new faces. In addition to the familiar cornet of foie gras and anchovy frazzle sticks from our previous visit were a squid ink crisp with pimento and an assortment of crackers. The crisp was an enjoyable addition with the squid ink giving just the right touch of saltiness and the sweet-sour pimento well balanced. In the “work-in-progress” section of things were the crackers. I was told by the maitre-d that chef Howard has been experimenting with making crackers similar to prawn crackers you find at Chinese takeaways. The idea of a fish cracker is nothing new – it is an East Coast delicacy in Malaysia where it is served with a chilli dipping sauce. Here it had good fish flavour, although they were a touch greasy for my liking. (7/10)
Bread – Walnut & Raisin, Baguette, Brown Roll
One of the key strengths here has to be the wholesome bread, made from scratch by the kitchen and served warm with a choice of walnut & raisin, baguette and a simple brown roll. The best of these was the classic baguette – warm and crusty on the outside but soft and fluffy in the inside, and correctly salted. (8/10)
Girolle Jelly, Chicken Consommé, Sweet Corn Foam, Cheese Frazzle
An Amuse bouché of girolle jelly with a layer of chicken consommé had good depth of mushroom flavour and the consommé adding a meatiness which was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the corn. Finally a little cheese frazzle gave both texture and a much needed sharpness to bring the whole thing together. Delicious. (8/10)
Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle
If there is a reason to visit the Square, then the sauté langoustines is probably it. This technically complex dish combines langoustine tails which are cooked a la minute with a warm, salty, tangy parmesan gnocchi and heady, dreamy emulsion of potato and truffle. All this is finished off with a puree of field mushrooms and topped off some crispy onion rings. The langoustines were of outrageous quality, a far cry from those aberrations masquerading as scampi that is battered and fried. Each crustacean was plump, juicy and meaty and would pass off as lobster if you weren’t paying attention. Apparently, the langoustines are brought in live everyday, quickly poached for 10 seconds to set the flesh so that they can be shelled and cooled in ice water until they are to be cooked. With a dish like this where there are so many (complex) components, timing has to be spot-on and many things could easily go wrong (e.g. the emulsion can split, a film can set on the mushroom puree etc.). Execution was spot-on and what amazed me even more was that the whole dish is flawlessly executed by a single chef who mans the hot starters. (9/10)
Salad of Quail with a Caesar Cream, Sweetcorn, Girolles, Fresh Almonds and Crayfish
By comparison my ‘caesar’ salad of quail was more simplistic and less complex with a combination of tasty quail, fresh sweet corn, girolles, toasted almond flakes, crayfish and some unadvertised langoustine claws. A pleasant dish, with the Caesar dressing complementing but not overwhelming the components on the plate. (7/10)
Breast of Goosnargh Duck with Tarte Fine of Peach and Red Onion
A plate of roast goosnargh duck breast was served very pink on top a tarte fine of peach and red onions which provided the acidity to cut through the fatty duck. This was by comparison a more successful dish than the duck dish I had a few days prior at Pied-a-Terre – the dish simplistic, yet each component pronounced and the duck itself incredibly tasty. (8/10)
Rump of Veal with Globe Artichoke Purée and a Croustillant of Tongue and Girolles
Equally enjoyable was a roast rump of rose veal on a bed of crushed peas with a smear of globe artichoke puree and a delightful croustillant of tongue and girolles. Given that rose veal have naturally different qualities from its white cousin (ethical issues aside, I actually do prefer rose veal) the chef has done very well to balance the flavours around the theme element, without overwhelming it. (7/10)
Not planning to have any cheese, we were nevertheless tempted when the cheese trolley was wheeled past us, especially when it is supplied by Jacques Vernier of Paris along with Paxton and Whitfield of London. Epoisses was underipe, something that our serveur readily acknowledged – the restaurant goes through quite a few tubs of this cheese a week, and the one we were served was from a new delivery which had not had adequate time to ripen. Other cheese we tried (e.g. Comte, Fourme d’ Ambert) were in much better condition, and ignoring the small oversight of the Epoisses, this was a very well kept cheese board. (8/10)
Vanilla Yoghurt, Raspberry Jelly, Sugared Doughnut
Pre-dessert is a classic – a small pot of vanilla yoghurt and raspberry jelly with a doughnut to top it all off. This dessert has been a classic here and every time they try to replace it with another dish, it is met with complaints with plenty of opposition from loyal customers… and rightfully so. The hot, light, airy sugared doughnut and luxurious, velvety vanilla yoghurt were simply a joy to eat and I would not have any qualms eating a large version of this. (8/10)
Parcel of Alphonso Mango with Passion fruit, Watermelon and Lime
A dessert of Alphonso mango may not have been a looker in terms of presentation but was a pleasant dessert which was a perfect showcase for the fruit – the dessert having abundance of the said fruit, and the combination with passion fruit and lime enhancing its flavour. (7/10)
Soup of Summer Jellies, Champagne & Elderflower
Enjoyable, albeit much less interesting, was a soup of champagne and elderflower poured over a selection of summer jellies, fruit and sorbet of red fruits. This was a refreshing dessert although what it lacked was that sense of ‘sinfulness’ to end a meal with. (6/10)
As per our last visit, the meal ended with an array of jellies and some very good salted caramel truffles. (8/10)
This was an equally splendid meal as our last at the Square and service under David Connor was both friendly and efficient. After our meal, we were invited to visit the kitchen and I was pleasantly surprised that despite chef Howard not present in the kitchen (he was away on one of those ‘inspirational’ trips to El Bulli – lets hope he doesn’t bring back too many silly ideas), they were still cooking at such a consistently high level. Many dishes we tried were a strong 8/10 level with the langoustines in particular even more impressive. Another thing that impressed me was the number of chefs (notably the relatively few numbers of them) churning out such complex dishes. Apparently when Phil Howard is present he prefers to do the actual cooking instead of simply manning the pass which is a rarity with many head chefs nowadays.
It is a shame that a restaurant like the Square has been consistently overlooked for a 3rd star while lesser restaurants in the UK either hold the highest accolade possible (e.g. Waterside Inn) or have been tipped to receive this accolade (e.g. Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester). Perhaps it is the simple fact that the dining room is too business-like much like the area surrounding the restaurant, but that is hardly reason enough when compared to say, the dining room of the Fat Duck. This meal here reaffirms my opinion that the Square is one of the best, if not THE best, restaurant in London. To paraphrase Ducasse, this is one restaurant which holds 3*s in this customer’s heart.