The Square, London

The Square is probably the best place in London for some highly consistent, British-influenced classical haute cuisine. However, it also has a remarkable wine list, the joys of which I start to explore. It also is priced in a way that makes you want to try bottles you normally wouldn’t even consider looking at.  I would say that alongside the Ledbury, this is the cheapest wine list in a London 2* restaurant.

It was my birthday and I wanted to celebrate. As my mother invited me a couple of days later to the Ledbury as a birthday present, I was about to have a very enjoyable week (there was some ballet in there too). There might have been a few minour issues (e.g. not filling up the bread when your bread plate is desperately empty) on the service side tonight, but apart from that everything was fine here. The kitchen ran more or less as smoothly as ever too, with only very small, hardly noticeable slips happening here too.

I started with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger, which drinks very well at this moment in time, and we then had a bottle of outrageously good wine: Anselme Selosse’s Contraste. I don’t have to tell much about it, other people know far more about the man and his story, but I can assure you that this is a monster. It was a pity to drink it pretty soon after opening the bottle, but throughout the evening this wine grew and grew. It was without doubt one of the most intense, complex Champagnes I have tasted, and made me fall under it’s charm right away. It does not get much better I suppose.

However, our great sommelier, who did a terrific job throughout the night, poured us also a glass of 2002, Puligny Montrachet 1er cru “Les Referts” from Louis Jadot, a 2007, Chateauneuf du Pape, Clos de la Roquete, a 2006, St. Joseph Les Vinsonnes from Alain Voge and to finish off the night a glass of 1998 Chateau d’Yquem and some Francois Hemart Rose. The wines were all very good, but the Yquem was a little underwhelming I must say. It was the first time I drank Yquem and it didn’t blow me away, as I had expected it would.  I must say, that I enjoyed Kracher’s Grande Cuvee no.12 much more for instance, but well, I was to see how good Yquem can be a few days later…

We started with some new amuses bouches: There was a black rice cracker with tarama, a squid ink puff, some prawn sticks and a cornet filled with foie gras. These were all very good. Especially the fantastic foie gras cornet, and the very enjoyable crackers with the tarama caught my attention. The only less good elelement was the slightly dry prawn stick, which lacked prawn meat or a more juicy farce. The squid ink puffs were very nice too, and accompanied the Champagne beautifully. Very good.

We then moved to the Salad of Thinly Sliced Baked Root Vegetables with Eiswein Vinegar and Goat’s Curd. I don’t know what happened to the kitchen here, but this was really not good. The beetroot slices were cooked, hence of a rather uninteresting texture, not seasoned, and the other elements couldn’t lift things up sufficiently. The overall taste was a little dull, nearly muffled. I can probably say that this was the poorest dish I’ve eaten in this restaurant. This was miles away from 2* food, and therefore quite unusual for such a consistently good kitchen. Not good.

The next course was great though: A Tasting of Rock and Native Oysters. On a plate was arranged a little variation of oysters, which included a bouillon, a deep-fried one, a smoked one in a creamy sabayon and a marinated oyster with Caviar.  This was perfect as a dish. Everything worked, and was very well made. We seemed to be back on track, which was good. Very good to excellent.

Saute of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle. This classic doesn’t need any description anymore, and it was just as good as always, although the gnoccho was maybe a tad firmer than usually. Excellent.

I had requested scallops with black truffles, and this was what I got: Roast Isle of Orkney Scallops with Crushed Cauliflower and Perigord Truffle. For the first time, I saw a scallop in piece in a British chef’s restaurant, and I can tell you that that alone made me happy. The dish was great, maybe one of the best of the night, as the classic combination of scallop/truffle and cauliflower was brilliantly executed here. The truffle cream came with plenty of punch, and the cruched cauliflower had more texture than a puree would have had. The only pity is that many restaurants don’t seem to shave their truffles tableside, which just adds so much to the magic of the black diamonds. This really was a great dish, and  was excellent.

The next dish was one of the best fish dishes I’ve eaten at the Square: Saute of John Dory with Hand Rolled Macaroni, Calves Tail, Leeks and Chanterelles. What reads like a dream in itself was a beautiful dish. The fish was of very very fine quality: Firm flesh, juicy and very tasty, it stood up well against the macaroni, and the otherwise rather robust filling of these. Here we had a great dish, which combined two fine ingredients in a most harmonious way. Excellent.

It was time for the main course: Roast Pigeon from Bresse with Caramelised Butternut and a Confit of Trompettes de la Mort, Chestnuts and Rhubarb. When the dish landed on the table I was quite surprised by the rather unusual looks of it. There was no saucing at the table, or anything like that, everything was right there, and it did look a bit bizarre (i.e. messy). But well, who really cares about what things look like? Taste-wise it was great. The pigeon was masterfully cooked, tender, and tasty and the confit gave it a very complex foundation. To finish things of, there was the beautiful jus and of course the deep-fried leg. The latter was great, meltingly tender, and wrapped in crunchy kataifi pastry it was delicious. I was very surprised how well the rhubarb worked in this. It didn’t stand out as a negative note at all, rather it brightened things up a little. A great winter dish! Excellent.

I tried the cheese board, which unfortunately didn’t feature any very old hard cheese, but had some very good other choices.

After this, we tried A Tasting of Stilton. This was basically a mousse made out of Stilton, with which was served a little fruity garnish made out of grapes and other fruit. It was nice, but I much preferred the normal cheese board. Good.

Desserts were to come, and I got a small portion of the Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit and Lime. This is one more of those classics, which are always brilliant. Excellent.

The final course was a Rum and Raisin Souffle with Banana Ice Cream. This was a much better soufflé than the one I ate in April, as it was not overly sweet. Need I say that it was perfectly made and that banana, rum andd raisins work well together? I don’t think so. It was very good, but I still have trouble to get too excited about soufflés. Very good.

This was an interesting meal. I drank some incredible wines, of which the Selosse will be remembered as one of the greatest wines I’ve ever tried. The service was great too, as perfect as always here. I hugely enjoyed the evening, even if the kitchen was a tiny bit little less precise than usually, but those were really small slips, which nearly went unnoticed. There were some great new dishes, which showed how good Phil’s cooking is in winter, when such heart-warming dishes just work, and I can only say that I will be back sooner or later. Probably sooner, as I still believe to be among the very best in London.

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