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The Square

6-10 Bruton Street, London, England, W1J 6LB, United Kingdom

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Chef interview

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.

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The Square, originally set up by Nigel Platts-Martin, changed hands in March 2016, and is now run by Marlon Abela, who has a string of restaurants including Umu and The Greenhouse. When The Square reopened in late 2016 the head chef was Yu Sugimoto, but this changed in late 2017. Since October 2017 the chef running the kitchen has been Clement Leroy, who worked with Guy Savoy for a decade and most recently at Auberge de Jeu de Paume in Chantilly. Clement’s Japanese wife is Aya Tamura, an experienced pastry chef who used to work at Jules Verne and Saturne in Paris, and now works with him, running the pastry section of The Square.

The new regime in the kitchen has been accompanied by a refresh of the décor, though dimensions and layout of the room has not changed radically. There is now a centrepiece by the designers Oscar Murillo and David Altmedj. It is a figure of a woman made out of tablecloth fabric. To an untrained eye like mine it rather worryingly resembles a blood-stained ghost, but perhaps I have been watching too many Japanese horror films.

The new menu offers four courses a la carte at £95, or as a tasting menu at £135. At lunch only there was a more restricted three course set menu at £37, or a six course lunch-only tasting menu at £60. The wine list was very extensive, with deep coverage of France but also lengthy sections covering many other countries. Bott-Geyl Kronenbourg 2005 was £45 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for around £16, Leeuwin Estate Prelude Vineyard Chardonnay 2013 at £75 compared to its retail price of £28, and Pierre Gaillard St Joseph Les Pierres 2007 at £90 for a wine that will set you back £32 in the shops. For those with the means there were plenty of grander wines, including Domaine Lafon Charmes Meursault 2009 at £500 compared to its retail price of £218, and Coche-Dury Les Perrieres 1997 at £3,100 for a bottle with a current market value of £1,442. A bargain on the list was the excellent Willi Haag Brauneberger Juffer Spatlese 2012 at £49 compared to its retail price of £36, though I fear that we may have drunk the last bottle of this.

A prettily presented set of nibbles comprised a coconut and carrot tartlet, seafood royale cornet and deep-fried sphere or corn. The tartlet had good pastry but the coconut and carrot combination seemed a little odd to me. The creamy content of the cornet was topped with salmon roe and were rather bland in flavour. The sweetcorn fritter had sweetness that reflected its main ingredient but which I found rather jarring at this stage of the meal. The execution of these nibbles was fine, but I can’t say that I was really taken by the choice of flavours (13/20). A final amuse-bouche was a parsley pannacotta with nori and pear jelly with liquorice foam and little parsnip crisps. This was pleasant enough, the potentially strong flavours of liquorice and parsley well under control, but again this was hardly thrilling (14/20). Brioche with Comte came from the central Abela bakery that serves this restaurant group. 

My starter featured langoustines that had been marinated in oil, salt and pepper, served with hibiscus foam, cauliflower semolina and also cauliflower puree, along with a crisp of langoustine to one side. The langoustines themselves were good quality (supplied by Keltic Seafare in the highlands of Scotland), and the cauliflower puree was fine. However the hibiscus flavour was a bit too strong to my taste and distracted from the delicate sweetness of the langoustines (14/20). I much preferred veal sweetbread with marinated squid, which came with spinach puree and a little pomelo to provide acidity. The sweetbread had good texture and flavour, the citrus flavour cut through its richness nicely, and the squid was both tender and an interesting texture contrast (16/20).

My red mullet was from France and had scales that were crisped up by applying hot oil. This was accompanied by “:graffiti” aubergine (a violet-hued aubergine) with shiitake mushrooms and Sarawak pepper. I am a fan of red mullet, and I liked the crisp scales, though I have seen technique can be done more neatly, for example at Cheval Blanc in Basel. However my main concern was not the fish, which was cooked well, but the aubergine. This is notionally supposed to have a rich, creamy quality when cooked but here was rather hard and unyielding. I find this a difficult dish to score because it had one very good component and one I didn't like at all (perhaps 13/20 overall).

This was followed by a palate cleanser of chopped mango with lemongrass foam, and a mango and coriander sorbet. I have never been entirely convinced about the necessity of palate cleansers, but if they are to be done then surely it is best to use something refreshing, like a sorbet of, say, champagne or grapefruit. Coriander seemed just odd, and I am not sure where the mangos were from given this was December rather than, say, May (13/20). 

The dessert menu offered some oddities like sweet white potato confit with gardenia, grapefruit and honey ice cream. Fortunately there were also choices that required less bravery on the part of the diner, so I went with a much more classical chocolate dessert. This had grand cru chocolate in various forms and textures along with pistachio and red shiso. This was a pretty dish with high quality chocolate, the pistachio a classic flavour combination with this and the spiciness of the red shiso (which has a vaguely anise like flavour) being carefully constrained (17/20).

Coffee was from a Nespresso machine. As well as several choices at £5 there were three more exotic and distinctly pricier options such as Jamaican Blue Mountain at £25 a cup. At least coffee came with a series of petit fours. There was a bar of chocolate that was supplied with a little metal hammer, for reasons that rather eluded me, though it was interesting to see how far the shards of chocolate flew when the hammer was applied. It certainly tasted good. Other petit fours included assorted financiers, and very good they were too (17/20).

Service was very slick throughout, the bill coming to a chunky £199 a head. If you went a la carte (as we did) but shared a modest bottle of wine then you could perhaps get away, including coffee and service, with a cost per head of about £140. You could pay less if you opted for the cheaper three course set lunch option.

Overall I thought that the desserts and petit fours worked better than the savoury courses. Technically things were mostly fine, but I just wasn’t taken by a number of the flavour combinations in the dishes that I tried; I also sampled three other savoury dishes that my experienced dining companion kindly shared with me, so it wasn’t just a case of choosing poorly. At this price point I would hope for a more consistent all-round experience through the meal than this, though the pastry section certainly delivered well.

Further reviews: 28th Jan 2017 | 09th Mar 2014 | 11th Nov 2013 | 07th Jul 2011

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