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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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Chef Yu Sugimoto took over here as head chef in September 2016, following the transfer of ownership of the restaurant to Marlon Abela in March 2016. Mr Sugimoto worked for nine years at Le Meurice in Paris, where he worked his way up to being head chef, a role he held for four years. He then worked as chef de cuisine at the famous restaurant Esperance Marc Meneau in Vezelay before it closed.

The wine list has more than doubled in size under the new ownership and now lists over two thousand separate labels. Examples were Geoff Merrill Syrah/Grenache/Mouverdre at £40 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, Tokara Director’s Reserve 2011 at £79 compared to its retail price of £27, and Domaine de Montille les Aigrots 2012 at a chunky £120 for a wine that will set you back £32 in the shops. There was no shortage of prestige labels too: Henschke Hill of Grace 2007 was £1,200 for a bottle that you can struggle to find retail for about £425, and Romanee Conti Richebourg 1990 was a heady £7,300 for a wine whose current market value is £3,031. To be fair, there were plenty of wines listed in the £40 or so bracket. 

Bread is from the Abela central bakery that supplies the other restaurants in the group (including The Greenhouse). A Marguerite loaf was suitably soft and fluffy, and the other bread that I tried was also good (17/20). An array of nibbles began the meal. Purple potato foam and crisp were fine, though there is perhaps a limit to how exciting a potato foam can be (15/20). Chive emulsion and potato cracker was better, the cracker delicate and crisp and the chive flavour coming through strongly (16/20). A miniature pizza soufflé was flavoured with olives and ricotta and topped with Roscoff onion confit and crisp. This worked well, the harmonious flavour combination comforting and enjoyable (16/20). 

Foie gras sorbet with basil cream had a delicate cone, but lacked sufficient foie gras flavour to my taste (15/20). Duck ham with hay cream was better (16/20) while crisps with a foam of spices (coriander, turmeric, pepper amongst them) was pleasant though for me the spices were overly restrained (15/20). A final nibble was celery in several forms including foam and a crisp, along with soy foam and a drizzle of yoghurt powder. The celery flavour came through well enough but seemed a bit one-dimensional (15/20). The first formal dish of the meal was a sandwich of marinated langoustine and shellfish coral mayonnaise with apple and Paris mushrooms between two slices of grain bread. This was a brilliant concoction, the shellfish sweet but balanced by the acidity of the apple, the mushrooms providing an earthy note, the texture of the bread a successful contrast to the filling. Terrific (18/20).

Good but not in the same league was smoked Lincolnshire eel with red wine reduction, pickled and pressed cucumber and Muscat grape. The eel’s flavour was pleasantly balanced by the sourness of the pickle and the acidity of the grapes (16/20). Wild sea bass from Brixham was precisely cooked, the skin and scales made crisp by the application of hot oil. This was accompanied by a sauce of watercress, dill and along with confit lemon. The bass had superb flavour and the skin and scales were beautifully crisp: a terrific example of top notch fish cookery. The sauce was predominantly watercress but the confit lemon added useful freshness (easily 18/20). Quail was stuffed with terrine of quail, foie gras and Perigord truffle and Dijon mustard. The meat had plenty of flavour, the truffle adding its heady aroma, and the mustard cut nicely through the richness (17/20).

My main course was red mullet wrapped in lardo di colonnata and cooked in a bunch of fennel branches, which were displayed at the table before being plated. The fish was then served with fennel, olive oil and a tomato consommé. The fish was lovely, very accurately cooked, and went well with the fennel (17/20). Dover sole was pan-fried and came with red cabbage jus with noisette butter. This was a nice dish but the fish could have been a touch hotter when served, though it was carefully cooked. I did like the jus, which really tasted on the cabbage (15/20).

A pre-dessert of goji berry shortbread came with mango sorbet and yoghurt foam, the overall effect refreshing (16/20). A single origin chocolate was made into a soufflé, and seemed to have some unannounced mixed spice, which I am not sure was a good addition. It would have come with chai ice cream, which I did not fancy and swapped for an excellent lychee sorbet. The sorbet was not perfectly even but was still good, and the sorbet had plenty of flavour (15/20). Baked Yorkshire rhubarb was a bit too sharp, served with gingered buttermilk where the ginger flavour came through nicely. It did not need shiso sorbet, which seemed to me an odd pairing and had a grassy flavour (14/20). 

Coffee was Nespresso at a hefty £5, though the coffee did come with some petit fours. There were also three premium coffees at an eye-watering £25 for a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain and £35 for a cup of kopi luwak (the rare and admittedly very expensive coffee made with beans that have through the digestive tract of a civet cat). This is over seven times the cost price of these rare coffees, but that is actually a lower percentage markup than many restaurants charge for regular coffee.

Service was good this evening, the female sommelier particularly knowledgeable and friendly. The bill, with a bottle of the excellent Maximin Grunhauser Herrenberg Kabinett (a quite fairly priced £49 for a wine that costs £27 in a shop) and some other drinks came to £183 a head. Given that the carte dishes cost £105 plus service, even someone sharing a modest bottle of wine is going to struggle to keep their bill much below £150, which is a chunk of change even in Mayfair. One minor comment is that the portion sizes seemed surprisingly large: generosity of portions is clearly to be preferred to meanness but even a greedy person like me struggled to finish. I would have preferred a quarter less food on the plate and a slightly smaller bill.

Overall this was certainly a meal that involved some accomplished cooking. The sea bass, mullet and langoustine dishes in particular were top notch. Not everything was quite to this level, and I found the dessert menu rather unappealing – everything had at least one “challenging” element e.g. clementines with cloves, pineapple with peanuts and coriander. If a pastry chef wants to innovate then fine, but why not offer at least some classical desserts on the menu so people can choose which way to go? This would seem to me particularly the case here, where The Square is not generally going for experimental food, so finding the dessert menu a bit of a modernist minefield in this regard felt out of synch with the rest of the meal. That aside, the savoury elements of the menu were appealing and generally very well cooked, with flashes of genuine brilliance. The main caveat is the value for money factor.

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

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  • Mark

    It's good to read a new review of The Square. However, it still puzzles me as to why restaurants serving fantastic food and wine to an exceptional standard, especially those with at least 2 Michelin stars, put no effort into the coffee. Offering Nespresso, the fast food equivalent of coffee, for £5 is crazy. Regardless of the fact that you can pay more for a more specialist coffee, it wouldn't be hard to put a bit more effort into the coffee, like they do with the food.

  • Patrik

    The prices being charged for coffee at top London restaurants never cease to amaze me. In case of Blue Mountain (which I have had three times so far in a speciality coffee house for about 4 GBP/espresso with 7 - 9 g) the retail price is about 12 GBP/100 g. And Kopi Luwak pricing - which is more of a curiosity than a stellar quality coffee - is crazy. And the proliferation of Nespresso machines in luxury restaurants is absolutely unacceptable - an absolute laziness.

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