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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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Philip Howard is undoubtedly one of the most talented chefs in London. The dining room, with its wood panelling, has a rather masculine feel, but tables are well spaced. These days three courses from the a la carte at dinner cost £80, a long tasting menu was £105, with a £35 three course lunch menu available.  Bread was made on the premises (hurrah!) and was a selection of brown rolls, mini baguettes and walnut and raisin bread, offered with a choice of salted and unsalted butter from Brittany (17/20).

The extensive (88 page) wine list had fine producers and has some kind mark-ups at the upper end of the list. The lists started as low as £25 for Rueda Verdejo 2009 for a wine that retails at £7, and had a decent selection under £50. Jean-Philppe Fichet Aligote 2008 was £30 for a wine that costs about £9 retail, Mount Difficulty Long Gully 2007 was £90 for a wine that will set you back £34 retail, and Leflaive Batard Montrachet 2002 was a relatively kind £395 for a wine that costs £286 to buy. Coche Dury Mersault 2004 was priced at £205 for a wine that retails at £154, and Lafon Montrachet 2002 was priced at £1,450 and yet retails at £1,402. Yet the mark-ups are not entirely consistent, the champagnes in particular seemingly less appealing e.g. Dom Perignon 2000 was £580 for champagne that costs £205 in the shops.

Notes from a meal in July 2011 now follow.

Tonight I opted for the tasting menu (£105 per person), with one extra old favourite dish added in. A salad of globe artichokes was prepared with fresh almonds, broad beans and girolles, with a tartare of veal and Parmesan. The tartare was good, and the girolles in particular were of high quality, the other vegetables pleasant (17/20). I enjoyed a scallop (from Orkney) cooked whole with coco beans, fresh almonds and lemon verbena. The scallop was plump and sweet, and the hint of lemon provided acidity, while the coco beans were an interesting additional flavour note (18/20). The Scottish langoustine tail, sautéed with Parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle is almost a signature dish of Philip Howard. This dish had an attractive balance of flavours, the mix of earthy tastes and the shellfish a pleasing contrast ; the langoustine itself tonight did not have as good a flavour as the last time I had it here, but this was still an excellent dish(18/20).

A slice of roast cod was offered with cauliflower puree, grilled potatoes, a summer truffle pesto and hazelnut oil veloute. Cod is not my favourite fish but this was certainly a very good specimen, though summer truffles always seem an understated taste to me (17/20). A fillet of turbot was good in itself, but was let down by a slightly hard pea and mint ravioli (just about 17/20 overall given the well timed piece of high quality fish).

Roast loin of spring lamb with caramelised garlic, olive gnocchi and balsamic vinegar was on surer ground, the lamb having nice depth of flavour and the balsamic a good balancing flavour note (18/20). Brillat Savarin cheesecake with currants was excellent, the rich, creamy cheese working well with a good biscuit base (18/20). This was followed by camomile soufflé with apricots and almond ice cream was technically well executed, and the camomile flavour did not dominate as I was worried it might, though the apricots were not the best I have tasted (17/20). Service was extremely good throughout, and the bill came to £150 a head with moderate wine.

Notes from a meal in May 2011 follow.

The meal began with a Scottish langoustine with pumpkin puree, Parmesan gnocchi, emulsion of potato and truffle, rings of trompette mushrooms and a separate field mushroom puree. Although there are a lot of flavours working together in this dish, I found that they worked well together, while the langoustine itself was excellent, and the purees had clear, distinct flavour (19/20). 

Next was quail in several forms. A consommé had lovely depth of flavour, with tortellini of quail. A beignet of soft-boiled quail egg with raisin puree had a pleasing centre and a good, crisp coating. Quail jelly was served with pearl barley, little brunoise of vegetables and bacon foam. Finally there was a “club sandwich” with the layers being quail breast, foie gras, truffle cream, and a little raisin and raw apple. The jelly was the least successful element for me, but overall this was a clever dish, with sensible flavour combinations, carefully made (18/20).

The next dish was an Orkney scallop, cut into two before cooking (I personally prefer to keep the scallop whole as in France, but this is a matter of personal taste) with pumpkin puree, leek and chanterelles with butter flavoured with black truffles. The scallop itself was of high quality, sweet and with good flavour, cooked just through and not over-seared, with the earthy contrast of the mushrooms and pumpkin providing a suitable foil to its natural flavour (18/20). 

This was followed by a very good piece of turbot (which I find can often have disappointing taste in UK restaurants for some reason), with lentils, smooth celeriac puree, Savoy cabbage and topped with caramelised pigs trotters, the latter providing a little saltiness and a crunchy texture contrast. Again there is a lot going on with this dish, but technique was again hard to fault, the fish timed well, the accompaniments providing a pleasing combination of tastes (18/20). 

Cheese was from Jacques Vernier of Paris and Paxton and Whitfield of London, and the cheeses sampled were in good condition, including a ripe Epoisses and a creamy St Maure (18/20). We tried a selection of desserts. I most enjoyed a Brillat Savarin cheesecake, with blood orange coulis and an excellent lime ice cream giving the sharpness needed to balance the richness of the cheesecake (19/20). Black Forest soufflé was pleasant, just a fraction underdone perhaps, with a very good roulade of chocolate (18/20). Banana fritters are not really my thing, but seemed well made, though a banana beignet had a hint of greasiness. Rice pudding with rhubarb jelly was enjoyable. I was less keen on an Earl Grey jelly with truffle-infused honey and raisin puree, as I really didn’t think the earthiness of the truffle worked very well with the honey (maybe 16/20). A chestnut financier and very well-made truffles went well with the good quality coffee. 

The restaurant manager David O’Connor (who since moved to Medlar) seems to me have lifted the level of service here, today being both efficient and friendly (the latter being something that was consistently absent on my prior visits to the Square). Overall this was an excellent meal, probably the best I have eaten here over the years. I definitely got a sense of a kitchen that was pushing onwards rather than resting on its laurels. It was a strong 18/20 meal, with a couple of dishes climbing into 19/20 territory. Flavours were clear and distinct, technique was excellent, and although some dishes were complex the components mostly actually made sense together, something that usually eludes lesser restaurants trying for sophisticated food.  

Below are notes from a meal in May 2007, by way of comparison.

The menu is very appealing, the execution superb – for example a faultless lasagne of crab, very delicate pasta containing perfectly cooked crab meat, the pasta resting in a remarkably intense langoustine sauce.  Another dish that impressed was veloute of truffles, little pasta funnels suffused with truffle flavour and accompanied by a two of pieces of remarkably tender chicken, along with a few wild mushrooms.  For a main course try Bresse pigeon cooked pink with Savoy cabbage, itself stuffed with pigeon meat, in a reduction of the cooking juices with some diced vegetables with a little bacon mixed in. 

The dining room is very attractive, and the only problem here was the service, which while usually polished suffers from an attitude that would make a New Yorker blush.  They don’t discriminate though – Johnny Depp was ignored for as long as I was on one visit.  Another service experience was when our petit fours arrived on one occasion – each had been slightly nibbled (presumably someone had just wanted to taste each one, and the waiters hadn’t noticed and just replaced the tray for the next diner).  When we pointed out this the tray was taken away with much bad grace, and when we later mentioned this to the maitre d’ he said “oh, we thought you were joking”. 

Further reviews: 23rd Jul 2019 | 20th Dec 2017 | 28th Jan 2017 | 09th Mar 2014 | 11th Nov 2013

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  • David W

    We had the tasting menu here recently. It started off fairly well, but I thought some of the flavourings were ill conceived. For example a delicious veal tartare was overpowered by pickles that were very vinegary. The second half the of meal was a big let down. Iberico pork that tasted literally of nothing, and deserts that were way too sweet. I couldn't even finish the soufflé it was so sugary. Petit fours were boring and characterless. The sommelier was excellent, with superb recommendations for white and desert wines. All in all a big disappointment for over £200 a head.

  • Albert Helms

    We had dinner at The Square on Friday 19.7.2013. The reservation process was simple and courteous despite being last minute, they even followed up on the day with a call to confirm. We had a spacious table in the corner, everybody greeted us. Amuse-bouche was served immediately. We decided on the tasting menu, one with wine. The meal was superb, the service 10/10, the ambience very relaxing, the lighting level even changed as it got darker. The outstanding dishes were the langoustine and the crab lasagne. If we can fault anything; the bread selection could have been better and the apricot sauce with the souffle was too sweet, it overpowered the camomile ice cream and the overall taste of the superb soufflé. If we return we will definitely go for the a la carte version; the langoustine followed by the crab lasagne. I have purchased both books as well on the net!

  • Name unavailable

    Project Michelin 2nd 2 Star location: I booked this for Valentine's Day 2012. There was a Valentine's set menu so I we just had what was on the set menu. First things first, we got a great table and I appreciated that. I never comment on wines as I don't drink but the food was very good. Perhaps because of the layout of the room, the staff don't necessarrily "cover" the whole room so sometimes getting someone's attention took a few more attempts than usual. But all in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

  • Alice Kearney

    I ate here last night for my wedding anniversary and went for the tasting menu. The stand out dish was without question the langoustine with gnocci. My only complaint with the meal were that the portions were just too big, sounds insane I know, but after 5 courses I was full. It was such a shame as the beef was amazing but could barely eat any of it. Would definately go a la carte next time.

  • Mark Skene

    We ate here a couple of weeks ago and the food was outstanding. The langoustine tails with parmesan gnocchi starter was brilliant and worth the journey from Aberdeen on its own. The dinning room is busier than many fine dining restaurants, something which i prefer, and gives the place a really nice buzzy atmosphere. We ate at Alain Ducasse the day before and I’ve got no hesitation in saying that The Square was better in pretty much every department.

  • Mark

    We had the tasting menu here a couple of weeks ago. Staff were great despite bringing 2 dishes in the wrong order and knocking over a bottle of water. I also had a piece of plastic in the petit fours! There were a couple of bland dishes but overall we had a great meal and ended up more full than I have ever been - including L'enclume!

  • Piet

    This was one of our most anticipated and at the same time most disappointing meals we had in 2009 (November). I think we picked the wrong day as everything went wrong (undercooked main course, lots of service slips, mediocre desserts). Always seeing so many positive comments means we'll probably give it another go.

  • Mark

    We ate at The Square in December and found it to be at the top of its game and the best meal we had in London. Terrific wine list at expensive, but not overtly unfair markups. Gifted Technique was apparent everywhere with both beef and fish preparations being outstanding. Bottom line....a restaurant you can send even the fussiest foodie to with confidence.

  • David

    We ate here in early December, and really enjoyed the food - and the cheese-board was to die for. Only a couple of small points clouded the evening - and my feeling is that there shouldn't be more than the faintest mist at this elevation. One - I didn't take my own advice and ordered a Sapphire martini at a UK French restaurant. I was served something in a martini-glass but it could have been anything - it was certainly nasty. So - more fool me, I guess. 'Maze' however, *can* make a martini, so I thought it worth a try. Two - the Service was most odd. It wasn't that we were ignored, it was more at the comic-opera end of things. Lots of rushing about by 'very important' staff doing 'very urgent' things. That coupled with the flourishing coordinated removal of covers, started to become annoying until we saw the funny side of it. The wait-staff were French (or were pretending to be) so there wasn't any real excuse. They should have known better. So, take your sense of humor with you and enjoy the food. No problems in the kitchen.

  • Sue Flynn Hope

    I dined here with a friend last night and it was superb - probably the best meal I have eaten in the UK. The crab lasagne was gloriously tasty, sitting in it's frothy langoustine sauce, and the john dory which followed was cooked perfectly, meaty in texture but melting in the mouth. The amuse bouche were quite lovely but I couldn't understand what the waiter was saying so was unfortunately none the wiser in terms of what they were. Date souffle was good but not exceptional. Wine an excellent choice of an aged rioja recommended by the sommelier.

  • Jason Webber

    My wife and I had a superb meal here last night. I had the crab lasagne, which was stunning and the Ayreshire beef for my main was amazing. Service when I went was perfectly fine, save for only understanding about half of the descriptions from the waiter due to the strong accent. Of the six Michelin starred restaurants I've been to in the UK (including the Waterside), this was definitely the best meal so far.

  • Dino Joannides

    At last I can agree with one of your reviews. This is one of the few restaurants of their type in London that can compare favourably to the Ladenis , White and Koffman's estabishments in the 1990's.

  • S Chambers

    My recent meal at The Square was lovely although as mentioned - service is sometimes a let down. Amuses before the meal consisted of a block of wood with edible treats sticking out including a parmesan crisp, a little salt cod fried ball, a cheese stick with anchovy (which was particularly good) and a very interesting little red flag which was pickled beetroot folded around some goats cheese which was a nice combination and cute presentation. To start with the entire table apart from myself had the crab lasagne which was served slightly differently to how I had it when I first went to the square, with a rich coral foam which was super. I had Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle which was beautifully rich and creamy with the fragrant spiking of truffle. Our next Amuse was a little glass bowl with layers of cauliflower puree, mushroom jelly and a vacherin cream. This was a great mouthful although you did have to make sure you got a mix of all three for it to work properly. My main was an assiete of pork which included some very tender loin, some wonderfully cracklingy belly and a couple of other pork nibbles including a tiny sausage and 2 small posh little sausage rolls but these were wrapped up in filo pastry which i didn't really think worked - well made puff would have been a much better choice. The highlight of this dish I have to admit was the tiny saucepan of vacherin creamed potato which brought reminiscences of Joel Robuchon's famous mash but with a wonderfully cheesy creaminess. Other dishes that went down well included a beautifully rich hare, rib of beef and an assiete of game. Pre-pud was a Greek yoghurt with apple puree which wasn't unpleasant but just totally boring. The cheese board was a great selection although I think most of the squishy ones could have done with a bit more ripening but then I like my cheese crawling off the plate. A stilton in particular blew our socks off with its pungency. The only disappointing course was dessert - I (and my only other colleague having dessert) had a "Hot Chocolate" with Malted Milk Ice Cream, Milk Purée, Hazelnut Oil and Espresso Pearls. This turned up looking unlike anything I had imagined. The bowl contained a cold slimy chocolate mousse covered in a slightly malted milk foam. Although the foam was ok we found the mousse totally repugnant. It was accompanied by another plate containing some lumpy slightly liquid melted chocolate, a meringue stick, some peanut brittle and 2 chocolate madeleines. The Meringue, brittle and madeleines were all tasty little bites but hardly what one expects from a dessert in a 2 Michelin starred restaurant and certainly not from a description of the dish. Post desserts were slightly poor too, a couple of nice plain chocolate truffles but fruit lollipops that were just confusing rather than tasty or clever. They had been made to resemble other pieces of fruit so for instance the one that looked like a cherry was actually a small ball of apple covered in a red gum. Bizarre. My only other note was that the service was slightly poor. It was very busy and we were a table of six in the corner but the lack of concern was just sloppy. On being seated we were not asked about drinks and after finally flagging down a waitress were then told "oh no! I must get the sommelier". What even for a glass of house champagne? Apparently so. 15 minutes later he deigned to come over. This was repeated throughout the evening even when trying to get another bottle of the same red. Very irritating especially when their topping up was not on form and the bottle is no where near for you to do it yourself. Other silly mistakes included 3 different people within the space of 5 minutes telling us about the specials and the waitress getting exasperated with us when we asked her to repeat what the pre-dinner bites were.