The Square is a restaurant which is nearly an institution in London by now. During the last years, Phil Howard and his team have cooked their way up to becoming one, if not the best restaurant in the city. This was my third meal here, and I enjoy it more and more to come here. The team is great, with David O’Connor leading a young, motivated brigade, and a great sommelier from the Auvergne called Marc, who recommends some rather drinkable wines.
The restaurant has changed its plates recently, which look decidedly more modern, even if they stay in the same style. The rest is still the same, with very good glasses, china and crockery.
Being truffle season, Phil prepared a menu that mixed this and that, with the addition of truffles in various forms. Bread was better than on previous occasions, as it had a much more crunchy crust, which I hugely enjoy. The selection of bread remained the same too, and offered raisin and nut, brown and a white baguette. I started off with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger brut, which was very good, and disappeared quickly.
The first course of the meal was THE classic of the house. The Saute of Scottish Langoustine tails with gnocchi…. Was a huge pleasure again, even if I have eaten this dish on a number of occasions already. It is just something you don’t get tired of, and the quality of the langoustines is absolutely outstanding. Every time. Today we had the pleasure of meeting a particularly sizeable piece, which had that slight crunchy texture, that often doesn’t come across on langoustines. Even in very good restaurants, most langoustines are of rather mediocre quality, but here they are among the finest I have come across. The texture is purely magical. In combination with the gnoccho, this is one very successful dish. Outstanding and one of the finest starters in London and Europe maybe.
Special Cuvee No.17, 2007, Hatzidakis, Santorini
The first course was a sweetbread with a cauliflower and white truffle salad. Around it was a bit of parmesan jelly and some toasted almonds. The whole thing was sauced with a little veal jus. This was a very well cooked sweetbread. Creamy on the inside, and just right (otherwise the texture is not so pleasant), it tasted marvelously. With the truffles (under it), the smell of the dish was simply unique. The fermented cauliflower brought some crunch, and underlined the truffles’ earthy tones. This was what the Square does best: Simple, perfectly executed dishes, relying on fine products which will beat most other London restaurants. Excellent.
Tokaji Furmint Nyulaszo, 2005, Istvan Szepsy, Batthyany
Up next was a John Dory with truffle butter, winter minestrone and shaved parmesan. The striking thing about this dish was the fish. It was by far better than any fish I’ve been served in this restaurant, as it was pristinely fresh, firm, juicy and tasty (the previous meals I’ve had here had some very good fish too, be it not at the same level as this). The combination with the pungent, powerful truffle butter was very, very comforting and enjoyable. It gave the fish a much more robust, round taste. The minestrone was very nice, but didn’t add much to it, although it didn’t hurt neither. In this case, the fish with that butter would have sufficed on their own. Very good, and excellent for the fish in terms of quality, cooking and combination with the butter.
Puligny Montrachet Les Referts 1er Cru, 2002, Louis Jadot, Burgundy
Ah, now this was special, something a continental European will not see in restaurants, as it is illegal, at least in France. Roast woodcock with white truffle spätzle. Simple, yet incredibly tasty, and perfect. The woodcock (Becasse in French) was roasted, and served with the head, out of which one ate the very tasty brain. The breast itself was very tender, with a unique taste. It was the first time I have tried woodcock, and I hope that I’ll come across a few more, as this really was special. In combination with the spätzle, and truffled butter/oil, the dish was a lesson in straightforward product-centred cooking. A great dish. Excellent.
Saint Joseph, 2007, Stephane Otheguy, Northern Rhone Valley
The main course was a play on an English classic, something which I always love here, as it is less common to have “English” haute cuisine that is well made and works. A venison Wellington was served with cabbage, beetroot and a simple jus. The venison was perfectly cooked, and tender, but the real star here was that cabbage. I don’t know what exactly was in there, but it tasted glorious. Nearly as good as some divine cabbage I can remember from a meal at Sonnora a few years ago, which has since then been my benchmark for it. Very good.
Barbera, 2006, Mac Forbes, King Valley
It was the first time I tried cheese here, which is now supplied by Paxton & Whitfield. We had about 6 cheeses, which all were very good. None of them was life changing, but all of them had a very high standard. At the moment the restaurant is changing its cheeseboard, and experimenting with ageing, different cheeses and so on, so one might have to come back in a few months to see what they will be like then. Very good.
Alvarinho Superior, 2005, Dorado Moncao, Vinho Verde DO
Vin de Voile, 1997, Robert PLageoles, Gaillac
As my companion has never been here before, she had to try the Passionfruit and lime cheesecake. It was as glorious as ever, and is only surpassed by Pierre Herme’s divine cheesecakes. Seriously, a meal with this, the langoustines, maybe some foie gras, a turbot dish and some meat will be as good as it gets in London, and on very safe 2* territory. This dessert is always perfectly executed, and never fails to impress me. Great stuff it is, and outstanding too.
Chateau Coutet, 1997, Sauternes-Barsac
Being just before Christmas, we were in for a special treat. A Christmas pudding. Very British, many don’t like it, but when a place like this claims to make the best in the land, my curiosity is sparked. Here it was served with a custard and an ice cream. The latter’s components I have unfortunately forgot to note, but I can assure you, that it fitted in very well with the theme (there were hints of spices, and a most convincing texture). Anyways, it was a damn good Christmas pudding, although it remains one filling dessert. Not one for the calorie obsessed of our times. But, those will most likely not be amongst the readers of this blog anyway. This was probably as good as a Christmas pudding gets, so I can see why they put that on the website. Very good to excellent.
Pedro Ximenez NV, Ximenez-Spinola, Jerz de la Frontera, Andalucia
As mignardises, we were offered clementines and some kind of special (British?) Christmas pastry. Nice play here on the theme of Christmas, which is always nice to see, especially if the pastry is of such good quality.
This was my third meal here, and the third time I had a great time. The staff are great, and our sommelier Marc chose some very interesting, and very drinkable wines to go with our meal. One feels well here, probably just what Phil Howard strives for. For anyone in London, temporarily or permanently , a visit here is a must for the cooking here combines classical French elements with contemporary adaptations of British cooking in a most successful way.