The Square has become a favourite of mine. The restaurant, situated in the heart of London’s most exclusive part, Mayfair, has it pretty much all: Great service, great food, great wines, not quite so great décor, but well, that is something you can easily forgive. Furthermore, the cooking here never deceives, even if it might not be the most inventive. But then, they don’t wish to reinvent the world.
For those who have never been here, the restaurant has a bar, where one can enjoy an aperitif or a digestif and a main dining room. Simple, but all one needs for a meal. The room certainly won’t figure among my favourite ones, but they did what they could to make it as interesting and appealing as possible. Tables are well spaced, and beautifully dressed with the finest cutlery, crockery and glassware.
The service was as great as last time, maybe even better. Not only did David O’Connor’s brigade do a faultless job, but all of them were very informative and charming at the same time. Not a single time, did I have to wait for a question to be answered or for anything to be refilled (like an empty glass or something of that kind).
The wine list should be mentioned. Not only does it have an impressive selection of Burgundy wines, but it also proves to be an exception to the rule of British wine lists. This is so, because it is ridiculously cheap. Consider, for instance a Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, which costs somewhere around 42-53£ in a shop. Here, they charge a mere 62£. Have you ever seen such a thing? This kind of pricing will not even be found in any European (maybe a Spanish) restaurant. The sommelier, Marc, did a terrific job and chose a nice selection of wines to go with our menu. Note, that some of the wines were brought by me, so don’t wonder if you don’t find them on the list.
To start the evening in a good way, I had brought a bottle of Champagne Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 2000. This was a wine, which both my father and I found very delectable. It might have been the reason for its swift disappearance. But, before the bottle was emptied, we had the first round of little snacks:
They consisted of a Parmesan cracker, a foie gras cone, a beetroot “flag” filled with goat’s cheese, an arrancino and a puff pastry/anchovy stick. All of them were very good, with special mention for the foie cone and the arrancino. This is just what you need to get your palate started, whilst you peruse the menu. Very good.
Once seated, the butter (now from Bordier in St Malo) and bread made their appearance. The bread wasn’t quite as good as last time, which was mainly due to the lack of a real crust. Apart from that, the raisin bread remains my favourite, with the baguette coming last. It would be great to see one type of bread that changes throughout the year. That way both the cooks and the diners can maximise their pleasure.
To start the menu, I had to have a classic: Lasagne of Dorset Crab with Cappuccino of Shellfish and Champagne. After the first bites were ingurgitated there was a short silence. One needs a bit of time after such a rewarding spoonful. This is a dish, a perfect one. Two layers of green pasta sandwich a filling made out of crab meat, which is then drowned in emulsified crab bisque and finished off with some Champagne foam. The whole thing lives of the intense flavour of the shellfish, which is always a stunner, if brought to you as clean as here. The sauce was remarkably intensive for being this foamy. I can really understand, why this is such a classic of the house and would urge anyone who comes here for the first time to include this and the following dish in their menu. Fantastic.
This was paired with a Riesling trocken, Forster Ungeheuer 2007 from Dr Von Bassermann-Jordan, which was already very enjoyable despite it’s youth.
The second course was another signature of the house: Saute of Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi. Howard uses live Scottish langoustines, which really do make a difference (the fact that they are alive when shipped to the restaurant not their origin). The langoustines here must be among the very best that you will get in a long time. They have this incredible texture, only very, very fresh, perfectly cooked langoustines have. The gnoccho was slightly firmer than last time, but still better than almost anything I have had in London (with exception of Foliage’s gnocchi). To adapt the normal truffle topping to spring, we were served a few slices of morels with it, which probably was more powerful than the former truffled version. I don’t know, why Howard uses such large morels, but they had much much more flavour than I had expected from such gigantic funghi. This remains one of the top 3 dishes in London along with the Greenhouse’s Pigeon and Ducasse’s Rose and Rasberry pleasure. Stunning.
This was served with both a Champagne Gosset-Brabant Blanc de Noir Grand Cru Ay and a Chassagne Montrachet 2006 from Bernard Moreau. The latter fit the dish much better, but I, being a huge Champagne fan, did enjoy the pairing with the Champagne too. In fact I’m waiting for a good restaurant to offer a menu, entirely paired with Champagne (Les Crayeres does it with great success).
A third and last starter was the Assiette of Foie Gras with Elderflower and Orange.
This was served in two parts. A little “ club sandwich” made with foie gras, smoked duck breast and orange marmalade provided a lovely mouthful. There was a fantastic constrast between the meaty duck breast, the smooth, creamy foie, the bittersweet orange and the crunchy bread. The main plate contained poached foie with a duck consommé and an onion confit (not sure about the last part). The poaching of foie is probably my favoured way of cooking it. The liver will have a lovely texture and lose it’s overly rich appearance, if cooked properly. Just that you know, here, it was cooked perfectly. With the liberally salted, fully flavoured consommé, this resulted in a fantastic combination. Excellent.
To go with this, we were offered a very nice Jurancon moeulleux “La Magendia de Lapeyre” 2005 from the domaine J. Bernard Larrieu. This had a lovely balance between sweetness, acidity and a slightly bitter finish, which worked marvelously with the orange marmalade.
For fish, we had a Roast Turbot with a Sour Dough Crust, a Puree of New Season’s Garlic and Chopped Morels. This is another winning combination. After all, turbot, morels, hearty chicken jus, the crunchy sour dough crust and the lovely garlic puree deliver some highly comforting textures and flavours. It was simply fantastic quality of turbot, as good as I had a week earlier at Ducasse. Here too, the flesh was delightfully meaty and firm, which really marks a turbot’s quality for me. It wasn’t « matured » for very long, which I prefer to letting it hang, as it results in this really firm texture that makes turbot stand out from many other fish. Also, the piece came from a sizeable beast, which must have been much bigger than those you usually see in most restaurants. The only problem was the parsley foam, which made the crust become slightly soggy. Apart from this, it was another excellent dish.
On this and the subsequent course, we were served a Gevrey Chambertin “Clos Prieur” 2005 from Marc Roy which I greatly enjoyed with the meaty turbot. It was interesting to see some red wine being served with turbot, the second time for (after ADPA) and I must say that it does make sense.
The one course I had to add to the menu were the Roast Calves Sweetbreads with a Crisp Potato Rösti, Crushed Broad Beans, Grilled Shallots and Morels. I did miss both the Rösti and the grilled shallots, which must have been forgotten. This was a bit of a shame, as I kind of wanted to try a Rösti from a 2* chef, but well, another time… The rest of the dish will certainly not be forgotten any time soon. This was a hearty spring dish, which was just lovely. Note that Howard does salt his sweetbread dishes at the level where some would call it over-salted, I for once, do like it, but a tiny bit more and it’s ruined. The sweetbread was cooked a little longer than last time or pressed more, thus less creamy and a bit firmer. This did work quite well, as the broad beans provided some creamy note. The morels were present, but could have been more powerful. All in all, this was an excellent, simple dish.
For main, we had a Herb Crusted Saddle of New Season’s Lamb with Spring Carrots. A generous portion of delightfully pink saddle of lamb (at least that’s what I guessed it’s colour might have been, seeing that the room as as dark as the night outside) came crusted with herbs. With it came tiny mint jellies, carrots and a Jersey Royals emulsion. Now, the lamb was very good, but not of the same quality as the other products. The whole dish however, worked beautifully and I was delighted to see this play on lamb with mint sauce. Especially, as it was a very good version of it. I really liked that the jellies were hardly noticeable as such (which is good), only giving their flavour to the dish. This cut the richness of the buttery foam and bound the whole thing together. Very good.
With this the sommelier offered a Barbera, Mac Forbes, 2005, Kings Valley, which was good, but maybe not my favourite wine of the evening. It did work well with the lamb though.
The cheese came in form of a Tasting o Barckham Blue. This was an intelligent construction around this blue cheese, which featured a number of preparations of it. All in all, I don’t quite remember what they all were, but the whole thing was a clever idea. Very good dish.
To go with this, we had a Marsala 10 y.o. Superiore Riserva. Marco de Bartoli which was enjoyable, especially with the relatively strong cheese. Maybe a bit sweet but interesting.
We paired all of the three desserts with an absolutely stunning wine, that you won’t see on the list neither. It was a Grande Cuvee Trocken Beeren Auslese N12, 1995 from Alois Kracher. Good boy, this wine was a real winner. It is just hard to put into words, so I better leave it there and say that I can’t recall many wines that could match this one’s intensity. It certainly provided a good accompaniment to the end of this beautiful meal.
The first dessert to make it to our table was a classical Eton Mess. Of course, you wouldn’t get it in a way a British schoolboy might remember it, but rather, Howard does something quite interesting to it. He serves it in two parts, a bit more interesting than the original, if I may say so. The little glass contained a strawberry juice topped with a delightfully fresh Champagne foam. The main dish was made up of a strawberry jelly, fresh strawberries, a vanilla panna cotta, dried strawberries, meringue and some kind of crème mousseline or so. If all British food were that good, or done in such an interesting way, I would have to reconsider my judging of it, but at the moment, there are only very few restaurants in which British chefs cook British food, that really is that good. In this case it was spectacular. Again, it is such comforting food, as everyone (even a Luxemburger like me) can relate to the dishes or combinations. The fact that it was made up of such a multitude of layers made it only more interesting. Excellent.
The second dessert came in form of the famous Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Kentish Strawberries. The last version I had been served featured some tropical fruit, this one on the other hand featured truly British fruit. I can’t tell which version is better, as both are beautiful. Seriously, the only better cheesecake I have eaten in my life was made by… a Frenchman! Yes that sounds strange, but apart from Pierre Herme’s Satine, no one comes close to this cheesecake. It is quite rich, that is a fact, but the creaminess and crunchy base do make it a beautiful dessert. The strawberry-tea sorbet was very refreshing, which woke the whole thing up. The only not so convincing element on the plate was the little spherified ball of strawberry with some sponge underneath it. This just didn’t fit in with the rest. The sponge was too dry and the ball too big to be eaten at once (cutting it destroys the fun of the spherification). It also featured on the previous version, but I seriously can’t see any reason for its long life. However, seeing that the cheesecake and sorbet were this good, one can easily forgive this.
The third and last dessert was the Mocha Souffle with “Dulce di Leche” Ice Cream and a Small Tiramisu.
The tiramisu looked like a funky battlefield. Not bad, but cool, in it’s own way. However, it had one huge problem: The little caramel tower was awfully sweet. Also, the sweetness of the other parts, and especially the pears, was just too much. The different textures made sense and made this little side dish interesting, but the exorbitant sweetness was a bit heavy at the end of such a great meal. The soufflé itself was very good, pretty moist, which seems to be the chefs’ style and not too sweet. However, the ice cream added some more sugar to it and the chocolate sauce, which came last (in a very generous serving) just killed the dish. After the addition of the sauce, all that prevailed was unpleasantly sweet chocolate taste. The other elements completely lost their role in the dish. To let you know, this was the first time I didn’t entirely finish a dish, which is a pity, as it could have been a very good one.
The petit fours consisted of the fantastic truffles and a little selection of different spears. All of them were very pleasing and provided a nice end to the meal. Coffee here is very good indeed, which isn’t always the case. To finish the evening in a decent way, we had some Armagnace from Helene Darroze, which was just as old as I am. This most certainly was a very nice way to finish such a fantastic meal.
As I said already the Square is one of my favourite restaurants in London. The food here features some noteworthy British and French produce that get treated respectfully and very capably by a very good brigade. Another thing I like about Howard is that he sticks to classic combinations, which very often do work much better than throwing a stick and looking where it lands. He does serve the most comforting haute cuisine that I can think of, not overstretching his diners’ intellectual capacity, which makes a meal here relatively “easy” to enjoy. The fact that he introduces a couple of British dishes into the menu should be noted: On my visit he did a coronation chicken, the lamb and mint sauce dish and Eaton Mess. I didn’t have the luck to try the chicken, but the other two dishes were great, which makes me hope that their share on the menu will increase in the future. If he manages to cook some real British haute cuisine (which I don’t find anywhere else in London), it would make the restaurant stand out even more. So, the 6hrs I spent here featured one highlight after the next. I couldn’t really say which dishes were my favourites, if I had to, I’d have to say that the signatures are always outstanding, the Eaton Mess, Foie and Turbot were equally good. The only less interesting dishes were the sweetbread and the lamb. This might have been because two elements were missing, but the way I had it, it wasn’t as perfect as the others (the sweetbread that is). This being said, it was a perfectly executed dish, which I would say was very good as such. Apart from these, slightly less interesting courses, the only real problem of the meal was the very, very, very sweet last dessert. If one reduces the sugar in the caramelized pears, leaves the chocolate sauce away, this will be a fantastic end to a fantastic meal.
In conclusion, I can only recommend the Square to anyone, who wants to spend a great time, enjoy great wines at very good prices and have food that stays constantly at a very high level in terms of both execution and product quality.
There will be one more highlight from the UK before I return to the Continent for some great places.