Interviewed March 2009
Phil Howard is chef and owner of The Square, which has long been one of London's top restaurants, holding two Michelin stars in 2009.
Q – How long have you been cooking professionally?
I started cooking in 1988.
Q – Where did you train to cook?
Having left university with no desire to pursue microbiology and a healthy appetite for cooking, I took myself to the Dordogne and worked in a chateau for the summer. This convinced me that cooking was my destiny so I headed back to London and conned my way into the Roux empire, in their contract catering arm. I stayed there for a year and left to work for Marco Pierre-White having eaten at Harveys. I found myself at Bibendum under the great Simon Hopkinson having been sacked from Harveys only to return to Harveys a year or so later with the intention of helping Marco open a new venture with his then partner Nigel Platts-Martin. The Square was thus borne, but without Marco. That was 18 years ago.
Q – How would you describe your style of cooking?
My cooking is French. Classical combinations of immaculate ingredients cooked with respect and simplicity to yield dishes with a degree of sophistication and comfort in equal measures.
Q – Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
Quality, value for money and hospitality are surely the three key ingredients.
Q – Do you have a “signature dish” or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
Over the many years at The Square there are probably only a handful of dishes that have become “signature” dishes. One such is a langoustine dish (sauté of Scottish langoustine tails with parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle) which is comfort food refined to its most indulgent and very best - heightened with truffle. The whole is so much more than the sum of the parts – a rare achievement!
Q – Do you have a favourite ingredient?
Langoustines are magical, utterly delicious things but onions are probably less indispensible!
Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
The River Café. Not only is no finer food served in London but it is served by the finest front of house team and all just a stroll down the road and over Hammersmith Bridge.
What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
The old days at the Square were outrageous in many ways. Cooking in flooded kitchens, 100 covers, 5 chefs, Nigel Platts-Martin on reception...
What would be your “last request” dish?
Probably a bowl of cereal – I finish every working day with one and it never disappoints.
Is there another chef that you most admire?
Neil Perry in Australia has impressed me over the years. Phenominal food and a relentless appetite for the industry in general.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
Be honest with yourself at the outset – if you`re no good don`t carry on. It is a profession that can bear many fruit but the sacrifices required are only offset by a certain amount of success.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
The never ending search for cracking staff remains the number one priority – this is the only way to progress from where we are and that is always the primary purpose. I would like to celebrate our 20th year by reaching “the very” top – whatever form that may take.