Posts Tagged ‘The Square’

The Square, London

juillet 11, 2010



Before getting into my exams and taking off to China, I decided to stop over at the Square for dinner, and say bye to the guys.

We let Phil chose what to eat, and drank superbly well. To get going, we had a half bottle (!!) of Selosse Blanc de Blancs, something, which is incredibly rare nowadays. The Champagne had a golden colour, which was rather pronounced and had a nose, unlike anything I have come across so far. It wasn’t pleasant, but not bad or anything like that. Just strange. However, a first sip was incredible. Boy, this was stunning stuff. I couldn’t believe it. it was pure Selosse, precise, concentrated for a Champagne, with intoxicating complexity and simply fascinating. I love his wines, and this one was no exception. We were in for a good start.

Next up came something enjoyable too: A bottle of ’04 Puligny Montrachet 1er cru “Les Pucelles” from Domaine Leflaive was just as interesting. Pucelles is said to be the finest of the premier crus in Puligny, and Anne-Claude Leflaive’s domaine’s wines are arguable the finest in the village. The wine proved this, as it was fantastic, despite it’s youth. After a while in the decanter it’s fruit came out, and started opened up, with beautifully integrated oak, and a lovely nose. It full-bodied, nor very rich, rather it had exemplary finesse and precision. Beautiful. Another of my favourite producers, so we were ready for the food to arrive.

First up came the only dish I had requested: Roast scallops with crushed Jersey royals, peas and Jersey royal foam. Simple and good. Visually, I really liked the look of this, and the taste confirmed that impression, Scallops at the Square are a safe option, as they always deliver. Excellent.

Following this came an interesting, very clever dish. Beneath a kind of crème-fraiche mousse lay a bit of wild salmon. The whole thing was dressed with crab and celery and a generous amount of caviar sat atop a quenelle of cream. It was another great dish, which paired masterfully with the wine. I loved it and was intrigued by the careful composition of it. The caviar and salmon were of fine quality, but that goes without saying in this house. Very good to excellent.

Next up was a composition, I had eaten a few weeks earlier, and absolutely loved: A tartare of venison with white radish and a kind of pesto. The presentation was even better this time, as the amount of crispy bread was slightly reduced. This is a great dish, which combines the venison meat with a truffled mayonnaise, and then wraps that “bon-bon” in a bit of pickled radish. The addition of pesto is ok, but I personally don’t really need it. I wish a slightly bigger portion of this was available. Great.

Before we moved into meaty territory, we started with a ’04 Gevrey Chambertin “Mes Cinq Terroirs” from Denis Mortet. A great wine, which has enough punch to accompany a number dishes, whilst having all that silky smoothness and finesse, one seeks in a well-made Pinot Noir. It didn’t reach the perfection of the previous wines, but was very good, to say the least.

First meat course was a piece of pan-fried sweetbreads with morels and a morel sauce. A few of my favourite products on one plate, well cooked, beautifully seasoned. Anything more? No, I’m fine. Very good.

A loin of lamb was crusted with herbs and served with potato puree and a few grilled spring vegetables was the main course. The lamb was good, but the fat-part wasn’t crispy, which would have made this absolutely perfect. The accompanying potato puree and vegetables were very good. A strong dish, here too, be it slightly less interesting than the previous ones. Very good.

Having run out of wine, I asked Marc if he had something by the glass, that was interesting. He came back with a bottle I know very well, a 2007 Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese from St Urbans Hof. Still young, quite nervous and marked by acidty, it went very well with the rhubarb beignet and the rhubarb preparations in the glass. A good start for the sweet journey then. Very good.

Next up came the pear dessert, that I’ve had previously, and with it came a Monbazillac, which was too sweet and heavy for my taste. Well, the dessert was as good as last time. Excellent.

Following that came the cheesecake, which is always a winner.

Finally a tarte tatin came with a glass of Ice cider from Canada. Certainly nothing, I’ve had before, but interesting as such. It would have worked well, had the tarte been a little less sweet. That was in fact the only problem I had with it: an overpowering sweetness. Good.

A few coffees later, we were sated, and ready for bed.

It was another beautiful meal at the Square. This time, the starters were especially good. With all of them being somewhere between very good and excellent. The purity of flavours and clever composition that characterised all of them particularly fascinated me. Also the fact, that Phil had tweaked the venison tartare in the little while since I first had it shows how much work goes into a dish, even if it is already on the menu. The main courses were good, if less interesting tonight. The sweetbreads were pure comfort food, in the way the Square does it better than anyone else, but the lamb was not that inspired to my taste. In the dessert section, the only one I hadn’t known so far was the tarte tatin, which was a bit of a letdown I must confess. Otherwise they were as good as always, which means excellent. All in all, this remains one of my top 5 in London, and now that David left, it’ll be interesting to see how the black brigade will change the way it works. I still have to wait until I go back to London to find out.

Publicités

The Square, London

avril 30, 2010

It was time to go back to the Square, which I find to be among the very finest restaurants in London. I won’t write anything about the general background of the restaurant, but I will just mention the food and wines we had, as I have written enough about this place before already. Service was of course brilliant, as it always is here, with David and the team looking after us really well. We were five, so I had asked Marc Piquet, the great sommelier, to organise a few courses around a couple of wines. We started with a very good bottle of 2002 Larmandier Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant, which was beautiful, and really had a great depth and concentration for a 100% Chardonnay Champagne. Next up was a bottle of Selosse’s Exquise which was outstanding. Note, that this was one of the old bottles, which still have the old label. This means, that the wine has aged in the cellars of the restaurant for quite a while and was absolutely terrific. Rich, whilst not overly sweet or generous, it evolved throughout the whole night. By the end, it drank like a very well made, very fruity white wine. Gorgeous and unforgettable. Next up, we ran out of white wine, and therefore got a glass of 2002 Pulingy Montrachet Clos de la Garenne from Louis Jadot. This was merely alright, but I much more prefer, say a Carillon Pulingy villages from a less good year than this, as it was thin, pretty pale and uninspiring. Next up was another bomb though. A 2001 Grange des Peres. Not quite as good as the 1998, I had tried at the Harwood Arms a few weeks earlier, but definitely in great shape. It was serious wine, and all I can say, is that it really made me quite happy. The final blow was a great wine too: A 1995 Kracher Scheurebe No.6. Also dressed in one of the old labels of Kracher, this wine was incredibly intense, concentrated, oily and very well balanced. This was stunning stuff, and great with the desserts we tried.  All in all, we drank superbly well this night, and the food was to be just as interesting.

We started with the selection of amuses, which were very enjoyably as usual. However, I can only say again, that the prawn stick was a little dry again. Apart from that, these amuses are playful, fun and well made. Very good. After this we went straight into very serious territory. A nice Isle of Orkney scallop was placed atop a wild mushroom compote and pumpkin puree. This was topped with grated black truffles. Wow! I can hardly recall a better dish at the Square. Without doubt this was a very fine dish: Even better than the Cauliflower dish I had on my birthday.  Excellent to outstanding.

Next came the famous langoustine, which is always on top form here, and still the best quality of langoustine I have found. Excellent to outstanding.

Next came a fish course: Turbot with truffles, morels and gnocchi. Very good quality in terms of turbot, the cooking time was also perfect, as were the accompaniments. Another very successful dish here. Very good.

Our first main course was a beautiful venison with beetroot and other root vegetables. A dish, which played with smoky, sweet and sour elements, this was a very fine plate of food again. The only thing I found a little annoying was the beet root puree, which was a tad too sweet for my taste. However, with the other elements it came together quite well. Very good.

The second main course was a pork chop with rhubarb and a croustillant of the head or trotters. The croustillant was absolutely amazing, whilst the chop was cooked very well too. The rhubarb was quite a welcome addition here, as it brightened things up, both visually and in terms of flavour. Very good.

After a delightful pre-dessert, with that fabulous beignet, we were ready for dessert.

I chose a crushed pear with truffle ice cream. Very simple, but incredibly nice. The dessert was served luke warm, and had quite warming, earthy flavours. Not bad at all. Excellent, and a worthy partner of the Kracher.

The second dessert was just as good, a rhubarb based plate, it featured a whole number of things, all of which were very good. Excellent.

All in all, we were extremely lucky today. The wines were magnificent, apart from the Puligny maybe, and the kitchen was on top form too. There was hardly one dish, which lacked some kind of interesting twist, and all were perfectly executed. After the slightly less successful meal on my birthday, this was the Square back on top form. In terms of modernised classical food, one is very safe here.

The Ledbury, London

mars 2, 2010

Eating at the Ledbury has become one of the must do’s for anyone visiting London, or living here. At least in my book. Brett Graham, recently awarded with a 2nd star from Mr. Bibendum, cooks the most interesting, food in London, and is among the best chefs in the UK without question. However, that’s not all, as the service brigade is equally great. Led by John Davey, who really knows what he does, these guys are fantastic. Hayley, who led me through my last meal too, did a fantastic job tonight, and the new sommelier Yoann Vasquez equally deserves his fair share of praise.

The meal here started with a glass of 1999 Pol Roger, which I find very good, especially after a little while in the glass. To follow, we had a very enjoyable 2003, Chablis Grand Cru Valmur from Raveneau, which took quite a while to open up, but whose last drops were phenomenal. To accompany our meat courses, a bottle of 2004, Auxey Duresses from Jean Francois Coche Dury was a memorable experience. This was a most pleasing wine, which was perfectly balanced, even at such a tender age. I will forever remember that first (and the subsequent) sip(s), as this ranks very highly in my red wine tasting life. Alongside this, Yoann poured me a glass of 2002, Gevrey Chambertin 1er cru Clos St. Jacques from the Domaine Fourrier. This was a very fine wine too, but I much preferred the Auxey Duresses, which was already much more approachable. As we had something to celebrate, we had a glass of 1996, Chateau d’Yquem and a glass of 2002, Chateau Suduirat for the desserts. I had the ’98 Yquem a few days earlier at the Square, which was a little underwhelming, but this was what I hoped Yquem would taste like: It was incredibly close to perfect, and quite simply exquisite. The Suduirat was not a bad drop neither, but looked a little pale next to its big brother (both figuratively and literally).

Some of the wines of the night

To accompany the Champagne, we had the obligatory beetroot/foie/gingerbread macarons, which were as good as ever. Very good.

macarons

The menu for tonight was put together for us by Brett and a few of the dishes (in fact most of them) were not on the night’s menu itself we were told. To start off, we were served a new creation: Frozen Foie Gras with Quince, Banyuls and Gingerbread Crumbs. What looked like a, nowadays quite trendy, pile of earth, tasted like heaven. The frozen foie gras was grated like cheese, giving it an incredibly light feeling, whilst retaining its powerful taste, and came with nicely crunchy gingerbread, reduced Banyuls and quince puree. This reads pretty sweet, but was a masterwork of balance. Every flavour was spot on, and the whole thing was already one of the (many) highlights of the night. A masterpiece.

Foie

Next up were Hereford Snails in a Mousseline of Herbs with Pickled White Carrots, Cepe Marmalade and Roasted Oxtail Juices. I don’t particularly like snails, they are often a little tough, and don’t really get me all that exited. Normally I don’t. Here however, the story was a very different one. The snails were as tender as it gets, and the surrounding mousseline gave them an additional unctuous, rich texture, which accompanied them greatly. A little cep powder gave some texture as did the slightly crunchy white carrots. The full-bodied oxtail braising juice boosted things up even more, and one was yet again completely won over by this course. Excellent.

Snails

The next course’s smell reached me before the plate did: Raviolo of Potato and Egg Yolk with Black Truffle, Onions Cooked in White Beer and Grated Vacherin. A large raviolo was filled with a runny egg yolk and mashed potatoes, to make a tasty, rich base for the black truffles. This was a great dish, but unfortunately, the lack of salt left it a little pale. Usually the food here is nicely seasoned, but here, they were a little too careful with the salt. Not that it was a massive problem, as salt and pepper stand on the table, but the first bite is that little less overwhelming, when the seasoning is not spot on. Once I gave it a pinch or two more however, the truffles suddenly woke up. Now the combination worked, even though there might have been too much egg yolk for the truffles, as the former overpowered the (very good) truffles a little bit. This being said, this was a very fine course, be it less memorable than the rest. Very good.

Raviolo

Roast Scallops with Cauliflower Puree and Wakame Brown Butter. A simple dish: Just a little puree, some scallops and seaweed butter. Does one need more to be in paradise? Probably not much, as this was stunning. The scallops, whilst not overly big, were perfectly cooked, and of stunning quality. This was serious stuff, and the combination worked beautifully again. The iodine flavours of the seaweed gave the scallops that little kick that made them shine even brighter. Excellent.

Scallops

Unfortunately we had to go to the meat course already: Calves Sweetbread Roasted on Liquorice with Carrot, Verjus and Chanterelles. First of all, the accord with the Valmur was unreal in this course. When drunken with this course, the wine suddenly was even more complex, rich and fruity. The meat itself was perfectly prepared: Crunchy on the outside, delightfully creamy on the inside, these sweetbreads worked beautifully with the other elements, and made for another simple, but excellent dish.

Sweetbread

The second main course was a Shoulder of Pyrenean Milk Fed Lamb Cooked for Twenty Four Hours with Baked Jerusalem Artichokes and Winter Savory Milk. Atop crushed navets sat a rectangle of slow-cooked lamb shoulder, which itself was topped with crunchy Jerusalem Artichoke skin. The meat’s texture was really interesting on this one: It was cooked at a low temperature, simply wrapped in plastic foil, not braised. This gives it a tender, but at the same time less mushy texture than braised meats have. One still had a little bite to the meat, which was great. The Jerusalem Artichokes made for a very successful accompaniment, and we had yet another excellent dish.

Lamb

A little cheese was needed to finish the red and white wines, before going to dessert, and the small, carefully chosen board remains my 2nd favourite in London (behind the phenomenal one in the Greenhouse). Oatcakes and another type of bread a freshly baked, and one is offered grapes, and other little things to go with the cheese.

fromages

Now, Brett knows that I do like my desserts, so when Hayley came up to us and said that there probably wasn’t enough space on the table for all of the desserts they were about to unload on it, I was smiling like a little child that sees the Christmas tree. We were served the integrality of the dessert menu, which was absolutely great.

To start, I tried the Raviolo of Rhubarb with Buttermilk and Hibiscus. This was essentially a re-worked version of the pre-dessert I’ve eaten at my last visit, and was very good. The only slight drawback here was the jelly, that served as the skin for the raviolo: It was a little too jellified, and hence tasted a little unpleasant. Otherwise, this was a refreshing, light dessert, with some very fine doughnuts on the side. Very good.

Raviolo

Next up was the Passionfruit Souffle with Sauternes Ice Cream. Now they make a very, very good soufflé here, and dare I say, it beats pretty much all of the other London soufflés by quite a margin. With the ice cream, it is a refreshing, perfectly balanced soufflé, that makes this absolutely perfect. Excellent (not to mention how this eats with a bit of Yquem on the side).

Souffle

Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel and Peanut Ice Cream was the dessert I didn’t quite enjoy when I first came to the Ledbury back in November. This time, the bananas were caramelised, cooking and making them crunchy at the same time. This resolved the problem of them being nearly raw, and lifted the dessert up by quite a margin. The ice cream with this was stunning. Very rich, with a noticeable salty background, and delicious crunchy caramelised bits of peanuts, I can’t praise it enough. Excellent.

Galette

Date and Vanilla Tart with Cardamom and Clementine Ice Cream. A very pretty presentation for a great dessert. Basically, a little date puree is topped with a custard, and the whole thing sits on a normal short-crust pastry. With it comes a very refreshing ice cream, which makes things look a little lighter, and gives the otherwise quite sweet dessert the needed acidity. Excellent.

Tarte

The Bergamot Lemon Tart with Assam Tea Ice Cream was a rare treat. These lemons have a very short season, and are quite hard to get. I was grateful to Brett, to let me try this, as I know Bergamot only from tea, and have never tasted it in a dessert or dish for that matter. Again it was a great combination, perfectly executed, although the Assam tea ice cream was perhaps not the best accompaniment for the whole thing, at least for me. Excellent.

Tarte-bergamot

The mignardises are always spot on, and I finished the meal with a glass of Billecart Salmon Brut Rose.

Mignardises

Wow! Brett and the whole brigade blew me away again, for the third consecutive time. This really is a special place, that needs to be visited by any serious foodie in London. Right now, I believe this address to be the finest in the city, as the food is technically at the same level as that of Herland and Howard, or Bonnet but seems even more exciting, bursting with energy, and freshness. Alongside the stunning service, one feels more than comfortable here, and I can confidently say that the second star is more than well deserved.

The Square, London

février 23, 2010

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.

The Square, III, London

décembre 28, 2009

La Salle

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.

La Salle II

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.

La table

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

La LANGOUSTINE

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

Le ris de veau

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

Saint Pierre

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

La Becasse

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

Wellington

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

Les Fromages

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

Cheesecake

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

Christmas Pudding

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.

Mignardises

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.

The Ledbury, London

décembre 2, 2009

La maison

The Ledbury was never really a restaurant that attracted me in London. Somehow I didn’t feel any rush to go there. However, recently a few people have had very good meals there, and a few dishes on the menu caught my attention. So, when came to Notting Hill, I didn’t really know what to expect. Michelin gave it a rising two stars rating this year, and in most other guides (British ones), it ranks amongst the best in town. Price-wise, the lunch menu is £24.50 for three courses, whilst dinner is £60, and the tasting menu costs no more than £70. The wine list offers some very good wines, at fair prices, although you won’t find many older vintages on it.

Une table

The room is somewhat similar to the Square (which is partly owned by the same person), and is rather elegant. Tables were well spaced out, and neatly dressed. The service throughout was fantastic: each and everyone was motivated, interested and seemed rather happy to work here. That’s the way it should be!

La table

To kick things off, a glass of Billecart-Salmon rose was most welcome, to go with it, I was served a macaron of beetroot and foie gras. This is reasonably close to the macarons one finds at Ledoyen, Arnsbourg or other places, and has got not much to do with a macaron. However, the present version was a particularly fine example, with great intense creamy foie gras parfait, and a lovely, airy shell. A fine start indeed.

mac foie

After adjusting the tasting menu and adding a few things here and there, I was ready to start. Bread is made in the restaurant, and one type is bought-in. On choice were three types: Bacon brioche, multi-grain and a pain au froment (I don’t know what that is in English). All of them were very good and easily ranked among the finer breads in London’s top restaurants.

Les pains

The first course was already a masterpiece: Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Oil, Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish. Served with a most interesting 2006, Vin de table de France, Originel from Julien Courtois (son of well-known Alain), this course was brilliant. From a visual point of view already, it was a winner, but the amazing thing here was the exact balance between the individual elements. The scallops, topped with frozen horseradish, and a few slivers of marinated kohlrabi, surrounded by a cordon of herb oil gave an unusual but fantastic combination. This was a dish that would not have been out of place in a very good 2* (if not more). There was the textural interest, a game with temperatures, and a number of contrasting and coherent flavours. The incredibly dry and mineral wine worked beautifully with the dish. Outstanding. I was quite startled at this point, the meal, still in its youth seemed to be most promising…

St Jacques

Next up was a classic of the house: Flame Grilled Mackerel with Cured Mackerel, Avocado and Shiso. This was served with 2007 Riesling QBA, Sybille Kuntz from the Mosel. This was again a highly interesting plate of food. Visually it was unlike anything I have seen recently in other restaurants. The flame-grilled mackerel came with a cream of avocado, cured mackerel wrapped in some jelly, pickled cucumber and a little broth/marinade. The mackerel was of very fine quality (as most products tonight) and was cooked with great dexterity. The skin was beautifully crispy, whilst the meat remained incredibly moist and barely cooked. I am no real fan of cooked mackerel, but this was very good, and the combination with the other elements worked beautifully. The wine was, again a very good match for the dish. Very good.

Maquereau

Moving on. I was approached with an interesting creature, a Crapaudine Beetroot Baked in Clay with Smoked White Balsamic Emulsion, Goats Curd and Herbs. With this was poured another unusual wine: 2008 Pais, Clos Ouvert from Chile. Pais is one of Chile’s most popular grape varieties, but is hardly exported. This was another very natural wine, which alone did not have much of an interest, but paired with the dish, it worked well, and got another dimension. The beetroot was freed tableside, but taken back to the kitchen for plating. The finished plate was again beautiful, highly interesting and unusual. Now, I’ve spent a few days at l’Arpege’s kitchen, where the famous salt-baked beetroot (also a crapaudine by the way), was invented. This version however was more interesting for me. The slightly smoked balsamic emulsion gave it a little acidity, which was complemented by the elderberries. With it came a feuille de brik filled with goat’s cheese and finished off with olive powder. All in all, I found this dish surprisingly good. At first, I wanted to change it, but was more than happy that the Maitre d’hotel insisted on keeping it. The combination of flavours was not unusual, but the way they were paired was much more successful than, say at Mirazur (where I had also eaten a beet/balsamic/goat’s cheese course). Here, there was real punch from the beet, and it’s intense taste was fantastic. Again, this was a very good dish.

Crapaudine en croute d'argile

Crapaudine

Next up was another classic: Celeriac Baked in Ash with Hazelnuts and a Kromeski of Wild Boar. On this dish, the pairing was the least successful of all. The Medium Dry Amontillado from Fernando de Castilla was much too sweet for the delicate dish, and overpowered it completely. Apart from this, the sommelier’s choices were all very well paired with the dishes. The piece of Celeriac is coated in ash, enclosed in bread dough and baked for a good while. After being released on the table (with a beautiful fumet rising up into the air), this plate is finished in the kitchen too. It is absolutely amazing to see what kind of texture and taste the celeriac develops, when cooked in this fashion. It is absolutely outstanding. The hint of ash gives it a completely new dimension, and paired with the crunchy hazelnuts and velvety mayonnaise, this dish is really unique. However, one element should not be forgotten: the kromeski (or cromesquis in French) of wild boar. This is another deep-fried parcel of heaven, as it is tasty, crunchy, rich, and quite simply terrific. With the scallops, this was my favourite dish. So far. Fantastic.

celeri-rave en croute

Celeri-rave

After a little break we were back on track with a Terrine of Foie Gras, teal and Fig with Toasted Poilane Bread. The wine was a 2006 Syrah TBA from Steindorfer in the Burgenland. This was a most pleasant wine, although I always find it a pitty to drink such incredibly rich wines at a tender age. The foie gras was of excellent quality, and masterfully prepared. It was perfectly cleaned, creamy, tasty and well-seasoned. The addition of the teal was hardly noticeable, and the bird could have been a more prominent partner here. Apart from that, the dish was another winner, even though it was more classical, and thus slightly less interesting compared to the others. Very good.

Foie Gras

The restaurant ran out of cod that evening and served turbot instead. I certainly won’t complain, as the Roast Cornish Turbot with Grilled Leeks, Hand Rolled Macaroni and Truffle Puree was one hell of a dish. Here the pairing was interesting again. A 2007 Gevrey Chambertin, made by a friend of the sommelier, Mark Haisma (the friend, not the sommelier), was very successful, if one takes into account that it was the producer’s first ever vintage. I wasn’t too sure, if it was the perfect wine for the dish, but it certainly drank well. Back to the food though. The turbot was a great piece of fish. Despite coming from a small fish, it was very tasty, and most importantly had the beautifully firm flesh I adore. Without doubt, it was one of the better turbots I have had recently, and was cooked to perfection, again. The grilled leek was great too, as were the macaroni with the truffles. Obviously, summer truffles lack the punch and flavour of their black or white cousins, but they were rather tasty for summer truffles. The harmony in this classical combination was incredible. Each element came incredibly close to perfection, and worked marvelously with each other. An outstanding dish.

Turbot

I was waiting for this one: Stuffed Pigs Tail with Creamed Potato, Suckling Pig Belly, Chestnuts and Cepes. This was served with a 2005 Vin de Pays du Gard, Roc d’Anglade from Remy Pedreno. We were back on track, as the pairing was one of the most successful ones of the meal. The pig was glorious. Even if the belly did not rival that of the Sportsman, which is my benchmark, it was great. Cooked in an oven at 75C (no boiling in the bag here) for 8h, it is then crisped and goes down very, very well. With it came the stuffed pig’s tail, which was the real star for me. This was the finest “sausage”, I’ve had (if I dare call it one). It was unctuous, rich, flavoursome, and simply great. With the shaved chestnuts, and pan-fried cepes and button mushrooms, the dish was an absolute delight at this time of year. A perfect dish for a cold evening, like there are so many at this time of year. Excellent.

Porcelet

Cheese here is supplied by La Fromagerie, and was in very fine shape. The board featured a number of interesting choices and I sampled about 8 or so, which were all very good. With it came very good bread, an oatcake and a little fruit. The sommelier poured a dry Tokaiy, whose references I did not write down. Excellent.

Fromages

Before dessert, a little pre-dessert was served: A vanilla crème-brulee, green apple sorbet and elderberry flower granite were a refreshing intermezzo. This was all well-executed and precise, although not really that interesting.

Pre-dessert

All good things have to come to an end eventually, so I saw the last course approach: Caramelised Banana Galette with Salted Caramel and Peanut Ice Cream. The 2006 Scheurebe TBA from Umathum, also from the Burgenland was a fine match for this dessert. The dessert was, unfortunately, the least successful dish of the meal. Not that it was bad or even mediocre, but it is quite simply something you can do in no time, at a fairly similar level. The elements were all very well made, but it didn’t really impress like the other dishes did. The caramel, ice cream and tarte worked well, as was to be expected, but the other desserts definitely sounded a little more interesting. Very good.

Banane

With the good coffee, I had very enjoyable macarons, and finished the meal with a digestif, the way it should be done.

All in all, I was quite impressed. I came here, expecting a good 1* restaurant, and was amazed by how good every single course was. Out of all, I would say all of them were in safe 2* territory, with some (scallop, celeriac, turbot) being quite simply fantastic. What I really enjoyed about Brett Graham’s cooking was the very natural and highly innovative approach. None of my courses resembled any of the fairly safe food, one is getting used to in a good number of London restaurants. What one has here, is food that has an identity, that might not please everyone, but that provokes emotions, makes you smile here and there (something, which rarely happened to me in London), that simply leaves you wanting to discover more and more of it.  A chat with Brett in the kitchen after the meal confirmed my suspicions: This is someone who really is passionate about his food, products, and cooking in general. If the Michelin has some sense of reason (which they usually do have, at least to some degree), I would not doubt the arrival of a second star for the Ledbury in the next year’s edition. Besides the  highly interesting food here, the service was great, the wine list offers all one could wish for at very reasonable prices and one could just come back and back. A real gem, hidden away in Notting Hill.

La salle

The Square II, London

mai 30, 2009

 

La Salle

La Salle

 

 

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.

 

La salle 2

La salle 2

 

 

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).

 

la table

la table

 

 

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.

Canapes

Canapes

 

 

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.

 

les pains

les pains

 

 

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.

 

 

lasagne

lasagne

 

 

 

 

This was paired with a Riesling trocken, Forster Ungeheuer 2007 from Dr Von Bassermann-Jordan, which was already very enjoyable despite it’s youth.

Riesling

Riesling

 

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.

langoustine

langoustine

 

 

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).

Chassagne Montrachet

Chassagne Montrachet

 

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.

 

foie

foie

 

 

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.

 

jurancon

jurancon

 

 

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.

turbot

turbot

 

 

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.

Gevrey Chambertin

Gevrey Chambertin

 

 

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.

 

ris de veau

ris de veau

 

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.

 

agneau

agneau

 

 

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.

 

Barbera

Barbera

 

 

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.

 

Blue Cheese

Blue Cheese

 

 

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.

 

Marsala

Marsala

 

 

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.

 

empty TBA N12

empty TBA N12

 

 

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.

 

Eton Mess

Eton Mess

 

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.

 

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

 

 

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.

 

souffle post-ice cream, ante-chocolate sauce addition

souffle post-ice cream, ante-chocolate sauce addition

 

 

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.

 

Petit fours

Petit fours

 

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. 

the colour of the Kracher

the colour of the Kracher

 

 

There will be one more highlight from the UK before I return to the Continent for some great places.

The Square, London

février 18, 2009

The Square, a restaurant run by Philip Howard and Nigel Platts-Martin, has one of the most accurate descriptions for it’s own cooking: Howard claims to serve refined comfort food. You can hardly blame him for being pretentious. The restaurant itself lies opposite the local Brioni shop a stone’s throw away from Bond Street in the heart of Mayfair, just to give you an idea of the people you might find there. Apart from the beautiful Russian expressionist plates and the elegantly dressed tables, the room isn’t the most striking in terms of design and doesn’t do the cooking justice. For those interested in more background info, you’ll find the best resume  on my friend’s site, who along with Andy Hayler  joined me for this little escapade. 

Service throughout the meal was faultless: attentive, friendly, always present when needed and very knowledgeable. 

Bread is baked at the restaurant, which is a rare luxury in London, which even Ramsay is not able to offer. Of the three offered types the raisin and hazelnut was the best, brown the least interesting. Butter was from Brittany and very decent.

To start the meal Howard served us one of his signature dishes: Saute of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and a Potato and Truffle Butter. Now, despite Britain being an island, most restaurants still don’t manage to source and serve decent langoustines. Here however, the story is very different. I challenge anyone to get me better and fresher langoustines. These were of marvelous quality and were cooked as good as  humanly possible. On par with the greatest restaurants in Europe. The Parmesan gnoccho (it was one), truffle emulsion and mushroom puree complemented the langoustine in a very harmonious way, turning  it into a most delicate  and greatly enjoyable dish. Here the (very) refined comfort food Leitmotiv is spot on. If there is one dish that I’ve had in London which came close to blowing me away it must have been this one. Outstanding!

Langoustine

Next up was a Red Mullet Escabeche, Red Mullet Soup. A soup made out of red mullet, somewhat reminding me of a light bouillabaisse encapsulated the essence of the mullet’s flavour. The escabeche (a marinated piece of fish, originally from Latin America) showcased, yet again the pristine quality of the ingredients Howard uses. In France rouget is rightfully known as the Becasse de la mer, as it is a richly falvoured but extremely delicate fish. The fact that it was served in an escabeche here, let the clean flavour stand out and resulted in a most pleasant texture. 

Rouget

The third course was a Ballotine of Chicken, thinly sliced with Jerusalem Artichokes, Charlotte Potatoes and Mushrooms. This was the only weak dish I tasted during this meal. Whilst all elements were well prepared from a technical point of view, the overly strong flavour of an acidified cream dominated the dish and did not let the chicken stand out. Also, the ballotine was sliced very thinly, maybe too thin.

Chicken salad

Poached Irish Rock Oysters with a Coriander Mousseline, Pomegranate Dressing and a Light Curry Cream got the meal back on the level we encountered at the start. Beautiful, meaty oysters sat in a subtly seasoned curry cream with some pomegranate seeds providing a textural counterpoint. The curry was a very interesting pairing with the oyster, that created a very rich taste-spectrum, ranging from the iodic, salty oyster, the rich coriander mousseline, to the sweet pomegranate and the refreshing slightly spicy curry cream. Again, this dish featured great products, perfect execution and no unnecessary complication. Excellent.

Oysters

Main course was a Roast Duck Breast with Spinach, Tarte fine with Endive and Blood Orange Sauce. This was the third dish from the lunch menu (35£) and was just as good as the sweetbreads or turbot from the a la carte (75£). Tender, nicely cooked (I like it a little more bloody) duck, amazing spinach, a very good duck jus, the slightly sweet endive tarte fine created a very complete dish. The blood orange puree (which features also on a foie gras dish) didn’t really add much to the whole dish, but might be a hint to canard a l’orange and did in no way disturb. One can hardly do anything but simply enjoy the food, which, here again is just as good as it gets in England. 

Duck

Cheese was decent, a relatively big selection, which did not really impress. The only one that stood out was a Blue Monday, which they source from Paxton and Whitfield. 

As time kept flying by, we eventually got on to the sweet part of our meal. The first dessert we tried was a rice pudding with rhubarb. a generous portion of heavily vanilla-ed rice pudding, which was topped with some rhubarb jelly, poached rhubarb and some sort of crumble. All in all very decent, a bit in the style of the riz au lait Thierry Breton serves at Chez Michel in Paris. This was another case where refined comfort food offered a very accurate description.  

rhubarb

The second dessert featured various banana preparations. A banana beignet, mousse with some praline feullantine based crumble, cylinder filled with vanilla parfait or ice cream and marinated crushed banana. This was much better than the previous dessert, mainly because it featured every possible texture: Creamy, cold parfait encased in the crunchy cylinder, the hot, crunchy and rich beignet and the refreshing mousse. Very good dessert where one can hardly criticise anything.

banana

A Black Forest Souffle proved to be another very pleasing dessert, where the airy souffle was studded with cherries and some chocolate bits that gave it an interesting twist. However, whilst being airy and not too sweet, a stronger chocolate could have made it more intensive, taste-wise. The star of this dessert was a small roulade of black forest gateau, which was terrific (unfortunately the portion was very small).

souffle

Another dessert was the real star of the sweet part of the meal. Just as good as the langoustines. Not surprisingly this too is one of Howard’s signature dishes. Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit, Mango and a Citrus Terrine. I can hardly say anything about this dish other than it being divine. The only cheesecake of that quality is Pierre Herme’s and that is as good a compliment as one can make. The lime ice cream coming with it was wonderfully refreshing, with some pieces of zest giving it a strong, clean flavour. The base of the cheesecake was just the way it should be, far from being soggy, it still had the crumbled pate sucree’s crunch and complemented perfectly with the mango puree. The only element that didn’t add to the dish was the spherical citrus-fruit ball and it’s base. Still I would say this was divine.

cheesecake

Another dessert with truffled cream, Earl Grey jelly and some canneles and financiers was a dish which none of us really liked. It certainly was very interesting, but on the other hand, it did not really give you any pleasure eating it seeing that it consisted only of a jelly a cream and some little cakes on the side, which did not have a relation to the dish. This just seemed a little odd, as all of the other dishes seemed very well thought-out. 

Petit-fours and coffee are perfect. The home-made nougat was simply to die for, creamy, rich.

petit

 

Overall, the Square must be one of the finest restaurants in England. Out of the 20 or so dishes we had, only very few weren’t at least very good. The only technical problem was a slightly over-salted sweetbread and, if you can call it a technical problem, a beautiful scallop which was (as everywhere in England) cut in half. WHY? Having a huge scallop sit in front of you is  a hell of an experience. Why do the Brits have to slice their scallops in half? 

Apart from those minor problems some dishes were easily on three star level: The langoustines, the cheesecake and possibly the scallop (had it not been cut in half!). These were dishes that provoked some emotions, something I haven’t had in a British restaurant before. With exception of the chicken, all others were very solid 2* and judged by the 3* Ramsay holds even 3*. Howard just has a much more original style that one can recognise instantly and seems very mature in that it doesn’t have  a mess on each plate (something all to many British chefs do). Here every element has it’s role in the dish, which must be the definition of a good kitchen. We spend some very pleasant hours at the Square, chatting, eating, drinking, enjoying life, forgetting about it’s troubles. I can hardly imagine another place on earth other than a restaurant or, where you sit down for nearly five hours and just completely let go of everything. Pierre Gagnaire once said that a meal is the only time of the day, when people sit down for a few hours and just enjoy themselves. The Square fits this description just perfectly.