Monday 15 October 2012

The Square - London

London restaurant, The Square is somewhere I’ve wanted to eat at for ages. Over the past few years, I’ve heard it come up again and again in conversation, often mentioned with some degree of reverence by people whose opinion I respect.

The Square is not achingly hip or in any way the latest thing, having opened in 1991; 21 years ago, it’s almost approaching institution status. With two Michelin stars and Head chef Phil Howard having been integral in both the career of star protégé, Brett Graham and the founding of his restaurant, which many consider to be London’s best, The Ledbury (Howard is a partner) . To say there’s an aura of excellence surrounding the place would be something of a frigging understatement.

I was due to be back in London for a day last week and I was fishing around for lunch recommendations, I always try and squeeze in a meal somewhere nice, wherever I can and The Square was mentioned once again. A chef friend of mine described it as the best meal he’d had recently and that was that. I didn’t need telling again. Booked!

Seeing as it was also my Dad’s birthday, and the old man is notoriously difficult to buy for, I thought I’d take him along, by way of a present. Strictly set lunch only, mind. What do you think I am, made of money?

So, striding down Bruton Street on a brisk, yet bright October lunchtime, the old man and I arrived at The Square, for a bit of posh grub. I don’t think we’ve ever been to a good restaurant together, at least not just the two of us, and I was looking forward to this immensely.

Greeted warmly and shown to the luxurious linen expanse of our table, we both settled in and took in a chattering room full of exclusively sharp-suited businessmen and women (this being mid-week lunchtime in Mayfair after all). As one half of this sartorially un-elegant, Essex duo of decidedly ugly ‘ladies who lunch’ I can say with some confidence, we stuck out like balls on a bulldog.
Not that this actually bothered me one bit, I’m well used to dining situations like this by now.

The old man, also seemingly unfazed by his surroundings surprised me by steering the conversation off-piste straightaway, stabbing his gnarled stump like thumb at a strangely luminescent feature wall,

“What do you reckon that finish costs?”

My Dad, just retired from a lifetime of working in London, constructing every kind of building imaginable, but mainly exclusive high-end, luxury type pads is a fount of arcane building industry knowledge. I realised he was out to shock me.

“Errrr a couple of thousand, maybe? What is it, polished concrete, marble?”

“No, a wall that size wouldn’t take the weight. It’s something called armourcoat, and a finish like that…”

…Taking a moment to appraise the exact dimensions of the wall with a professional eye…a dramatic pause, a casual intake of breath before delivering the good news…

“That’d cost you at least eight grand”.

The conversation then proceeded with a surprisingly amusing armourcoat based anecdote from a building job he’d worked on years ago. I looked around the elegant dining room again and thought it unlikely that anyone else had ever had the same discussion here. Ever.
Butter, unsalted and salted, riding atop flat backed glass swans made it’s way to the table. Posh. Digging into the offered basket full of absolutely superb bread, we paused to consider the set lunch menu.
But first, a baked beetroot and pickled herring amuse topped with cream and specked through with seeds was delicious and a nice way to kick proceedings off.
Ravioli of Langoustine with Crushed Cauliflower, Cepes, Pumpkin and Beurre Noisette was something else, bloody amazing basically. Ridiculously rich, of course, but as I munched away, the very distinct flavours came to the fore and were each in turn briefly discernible, the langoustine, cepes, lemon perhaps…If I could just once, make something so intriguingly multi-layered in taste and utterly frigging delicious I’d be a very happy man.
The old man’s plate of Tartare of Smoked Venison with Baked Celeriac, Crapaudine Beetroot and Chestnut Cream looked gorgeous, absolutely beautiful presentation and from my Dad’s feedback and the forkful I got of it, tasted the business. To be honest, the greedy bastardo in me wishes I could have eaten both starters. I have to admit, at the time I had no idea what crapaudine beetroot was, thinking it perhaps some particularly poncey French culinary term requiring a copy of Larousse to decipher. Turns out it’s a type of heritage beetroot. *groans and slaps forehead*
I’m from Essex; therefore I gravitate towards pie with mash, even in a two star restaurant. It’s the natural order of things. Yes, in this case a very swanky example, Game Pie, Savoy Cabbage and Creamed Potato, with a rich game Jus, poured over ceremoniously at the table. Cracking pastry, beautiful rich meaty filling. A dollop of superbly luxurious, whipped, creamy mash. Quite obviously crammed full of butter and cream, and all the better for it.
My Dad’s Fillet of Organic Salmon with Whole Grain Couscous, a Light Curry Dressing and Pomegranate wasn’t going down quite so well across the table. He was eating it, but as I had my head down like a pig in a trough, gorging on game pie, it wasn’t till the end of the meal that I noticed he’d left some. I did a startled double take, considering as I was, at that very moment, whether it would be truly bad form to lick my plate. The Old Man, ever the diplomat said it was really nice, but not as good as his starter. I tried a little and thought it was cracking. Maybe salmon just isn't my Dad's thing.  
A pre-dessert, turned out to be a dainty portion of the second option on the set menu, which is a nice way of doing business. You’re not left wondering what the other unordered dish was like. Warm Amalfi Lemon Cake with Black Figs and Honey Ice Cream unsurprisingly was ridiculously sweet and sticky, so much so that I doubt I could have finished a full portion, but truly gorgeous.
We’d both ordered the same dessert proper, Roasted Pear with Quince Puree, Almond Croustillant and Sherry Vinegar Ice Cream. First of all, I have to admit I had no idea what croustillant means until I looked it up, but now I’m sagely nodding my head and stroking my beard muttering ‘crisp, of course’.

Although the finer points of French culinary terms count for nothing when you’re stuffing the lot into your gob as fast as you can. This was probably the best dish I ate at The Square. A bona fide frigging masterpiece. The rich caramelised sweetness of the pear combined with the sourness of the sherry vinegar ice cream. Holy Moly, that’s what I’m talking about.
Finally, no parsimony with the delicious Nougat petit fours, they kept coming till we were both groaning and waving them away, stuffed silly.

A three course set lunch at The Square will set you back £35, a non-extravagant glass of wine, coffee and tip; you’re looking at just over £50. Not cheap, but consider that you could walk into any rubbish high street chain and easily spank £20 on lunch or dinner, and it would be truly abysmal, then why not forego that horrendous experience two or three times and treat yourself to a posh lunch where the food will be incredible and the service faultless? Makes sense to me.

As you may have gathered from the write up, the food at The Square was pretty much faultless. The front of house and waiting staff complete professionals, striking just the right balance between being friendly; putting you at ease but with a nice level of formality too, just to remind you that this is an upmarket joint.

If I had to question any aspect of the experience at all, it would be the dining room itself. It’s very businesslike, very corporate and somehow quite characterless. Compared to say The Ledbury, which also has two stars but feels, to me at least, very different, more interesting and pleasing to the eye.

But, it’s all splitting hairs when you can eat dishes like the Langoustine Ravioli and the Roasted Pear with Sherry Vinegar, quite possibly two of the nicest things I’ve eaten, ever, anywhere.

The Square
6-10 Bruton Street

Telephone: 020 7495 7100


meemalee said...

Ooh, we went to the Square t'other day and loved it - and we chose completely different dishes from you!

Must go back for the Tasting Menu ...

Dan said...

Meemalee - Nice! Interested to see what you had, are you going to write it up? I Believe FoodUrchin is eating there this week as well. I'd bloody love to try the tasting menu. Next time I find £105 down the back of the sofa, I'm there.

SVN78 said...

Great blog entry. You captured Dad very well.

Danny and I want to go for a nice meal with Scott and Sam soon, wondered if you could recommend somewhere. We want somewhere hoity toity please!

Dan said...

SVN78 - Well this place would be a good start. Otherwise, I'd definitely say The Ledbury. It's frigging awesome and tres hoity toity x

Lela London said...

Roughly £8,000 of characterlessness. ;) This one is added to the hitlist for sure. Mmm, ravioli.


Dan said...

Lela - Hahahaha it's a very subtle finish, I doubt anyone but my Old Man would notice it. You should definitely go.

Anonymous said...

This has been at the top of my "bucket list" for quite some time and I have finally booked it for our Christmas treat! After your write up, I am even more excited!

Kavey said...

This has been on my list for aaaages too. I need to get me some income so I can get me some fahn dining! :-D Nice write up!