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The Square

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6-10 Bruton StreetW1J 6PU London - Mayfair
United Kingdom
T+44 2074957100

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MTWTFSS
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Chef's personal info

Name: Philip Howard
Date of birth: Unknown
Origin:
Experience:
Apprenticeship at Roux Restaurants Worked withs Chefs Simon Hopkinson and Marco Pierre White. 
 
Awards:
the BMW Square Meal Restaurant of the Year - 2 Michelin Stars - Michelin
 

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The Square (The Return), London

The Square (The Return), London

The Square

I am a sucker for a well-written menu. And boy does Philip Howard know how to write them. His dish descriptions are neither long nor short, neither exhaustive nor aloof; the reader is given a fair hint of what will happen on the plate, whilst allowing enough flexibility for a surprise or two. Both sempiternal and seasonal signature items, whose quality can always be relied upon, litter every course; not to mention the ever-present ‘Fish of the Day’ that adds a mizzle of mystery into the equation. As you may be able to tell, I am not one to suffer from menu ennui; I can read (and talk/write about) good ones all day. The corollary to this, of course, is that I cannot stand cartes that promise so much, but deliver so little.

The Square, after my August bank holiday dinner with W, came very close to falling into this contemptible category. There were mitigating circumstances, however, which I have, from that day forward, clung to in heartfelt hope that that meal was a one-off, freak misfire. As it was a holiday, Chef Howard and sous-chef, Robert Westin, were both, unsurprising, on holiday themselves and on this fact I blame everything that went wrong that day.

Since then, almost every time I have asked a foodie, chef, maître d’hôtel or serveur/serveuse for a recommendation, the memory of that Monday has returned to haunt me. ‘The Square,’ a chorus from those in the know echoes, leaving me thinking to myself, why me? Why was I the only one ever served the duff stuff? Thus, this morning I decided to finally lay this ghost to rest with a spontaneous double-starred spot of tiffin. It was a bright and sunny day, which, after my meal last Monday (poor weather coincided with a poor experience or maybe my Mondays are voodooed?), I convinced myself was a safe omen. I arrived promptly. It was high noon. A time traditionally set aside for clashing swords and shoot-outs. Portentous.

The Square 2 The Square 3

Once inside, I saw nothing had changed; she wais as I left her. At the door I met David (O’Connor), he is new and of strong stock having previously managed another of Nigel-Martin Platt’s Michelin-ed tribe of restaurants, the Square’s suburban cousin, Chez Bruce. I was shown to my seat and the menus. ALC, tasting menu, menu du jour, chef’s specials; all, as mentioned afore, were a pleasure to read. The table was once more exquisite: Christofle silverware, Bernaudaud crockery and those beautiful, one-of-a-kind Kandinsky-esque cover plates from Restaurant MPW at the Hyde Park Hotel. Sadly, I have learnt that these will soon be replaced. Chef Howard and Bodo Sperlein (Tom Aikens, Le Champignon Sauvage, Charlie Trotter’s) have been collaborating for the last six months on new custom plates which will bear a contemporary, slightly Russian art deco design.

The Square - Le Tableau The Square 3

I had my head in the à la carte, when someone approached. I looked up. I was delighted to see the chef – confirming he was here this time, although I had certainly checked he would be – doing the rounds before service was in full swing. He cut an imposing figure, tall and broad-shouldered and seemingly full of energy (he does run marathons, don’t you know). I spoke to him briefly, telling him about my previous disappointment (honesty is the best policy?). He did not hold the criticism against me and I was able to ask him about his ‘philosophy’ on food: ‘I don’t want to innovate,’ he begun, ‘I believe classic combinations work best’. When asked about his style, he told me he wanted to make dishes that ‘feed the soul’ and which ‘you can sit in front of the TV and eat,’ adding, ‘with your eyes closed.’ Eyes open or closed, I wish I could have two Michelin-starred cuisine on my couch! I kept this thought to myself though. He left my table with a succinct summary of cooking: ‘refined comfort food’.

Quickly I asked David to help me decide what to order. At the Square, they can make demi-portions and allow customers substitutions on the tasting menu; something I always find very helpful. Eventually, we arrange something, taking the menu degustation and amending it with some of chef’s trademark dishes and day’s specials…

Les Pains Les Pains 2

Les Pains: Baguette; Brown Bread; and Walnut & Raisin. The bread was offered hot and homemade, just how I like it. There were three types to try and all three did I try indeed: the big-bellied baguette had sharp, super-crispy tips; the wholemeal brown was deep-flavoured and thick; and the walnut-raisin, soft, fluffy and filled with warm, juicy fruit. Squares of salted and Christmas-trees of unsalted butter, plated upon levelled-whale-like glass saucers, were supplied from some of the best, Le Beurre Bordier (St. Malo) and Échiré (Deux-Sèvres) respectively.

"Kedgeree"

Entrée 1: “Kedgeree”. Smoked haddock, heaped upon hard-boiled egg and superimposed with slices of leek and steamed celery, are spread over with curry cream and golden raisin purée; the dish is presented with poached quail’s egg, arronccino and mussel beignet with a garnish of Granny Smith julienne and deep-fried celery leaf. The fish, cooked sous-vide, was moist and soft, contrasting with the crunchy celery, crisp mussel tempura and crusty curried-haddock-risotto ball with nicely al dente rice. Thickly pureed raisins supplied sudden shots of sweet intensity; the mild, mellow curry sauce, a little spice; juicy apple added bite and gentle acidity; and the creamy eggs gave everything an unctuous richness.

For the curious few, Kedgeree is an East Indian recipe, originally of rice, lentils and onions, but colonised by the English into a breakfast item with smoked fish, sauces and hard-cooked eggs.

Chef Propose - Roast Isles of Orkney Scallops with New Season’s Perigord Truffle Purée, Ecrasé of Butternut Squash, Chestnuts and Velouté of Cepes

Entrée 2: Chef ProposeRoast Isles of Orkney Scallops with New Season’s Perigord Truffle Purée, Ecrasé of Butternut Squash, Chestnuts and Velouté of Cepes. Single, roasted scallop, sitting on crushed chestnuts and butternut squash and under an emulsion of cèpes, came overlaying a pair of pureed autumn truffle adipose arrows. The scallop, the largest I have ever seen, was delicious – moist, sweet, salty, firm and buttery – it peeled apart, grain by grain. Under the smoky mushroom velouté, wrapping the shellfish’s upper surface, was a welcome surprise of more truffle shavings, which together with their purée, though they did not seem to release any of their distinctive pungence – which made me think their taste would be similarly bland – had profound flavour. The soft ecrasé of chestnut and squash, together nutty and sweet, was a fine foil for the fungi and scallop.

White Truffle from Alba Ravioli of Calves Tail with Crushed Cauliflower and Chanterelles, White Truffles from Alba

Ravioli of Calves Tail with Crushed Cauliflower and Chanterelles, White Truffles from Alba 2

Entrée 3: Ravioli of Calves Tail with Crushed Cauliflower and Chanterelles, White Truffles from Alba. A giant raviolo replete with braised calves’ tail, spring onion and wild mushrooms, sitting upon a cushion of coarsely crumbled cauliflower and parmesan, was capped with chanterelles, slow-cooked hen egg yolk and more parmesan; the dish was dressed with calves’ tail liquor split out with beurre noisette and finalised tableside with a generous grating of Alban white truffles. The pasta, made with a hint of chestnut, was delicate in texture and sweet-nuttiness; its filling of tender flesh, earthy cèpes, nutty chanterelles and chicken mousse gave it pleasing softness and serious savour. Crunchy cartilage and spring onion, both bulb and shoot, seemingly all thrown together, reinforced the rusticity of the raviolo perfectly. Although classic cauliflower cheese came as a sophisticated ecrassé of cauliflower and parmesan, it had the same subtle nutlike creaminess. The at hand abrading of the truffle allowed its garlicky aroma to engulf the table; this privileged tuber, against the humble pasta, was as pretentious a juxtaposition as could be, but it worked wonderfully.

Roast Foie Gras with a Sweet and Sour Citrus Glaze, Candied Pineapple and Lime

Entrée 4: Roast Foie Gras with a Sweet and Sour Citrus Glaze, Candied Pineapple and Lime. On top of apple and pear compote pallet, lay foie gras lobe, layered with poached-and-semi-dried pineapple pieces, puffed rice and citrus-and-port glaze, alongside a ripple of pineapple purée and plashet of lime and pineapple jelly. Prepared sous-vide then pan-fried, the foie was firm without and milky molten within. The succession of sugary-sour combinations throughout were simultaneously a sweet complement and acidic counterpoint to the liver, cutting through its richness; warm, moist compote had fruity-tart balance, whilst the also-warm purée and cool jelly were each an example of the two extremes. Lime powder and honeycomb coated rice crispies offered surprising crunch amidst mouthfuls of soft foie.

Fish of the Day - Roast Fillet of Turbot with a Fricassée of Winter Vegetables, Hand Rolled Farfelle and New Season’s Perigord Truffle

Plat Principal 1: Fish of the Day – Roast Fillet of Turbot with a Fricassée of Winter Vegetables, Hand Rolled Farfelle and New Season’s Perigord Truffle. Thick fillet of turbot, swimming in cèpes velouté and jus roti, was served floating on handmade farfelle and roasted roots and greens – salsify, cauliflower and chervil – all strewn with truffle. This time the truffle was fainter yet still distinct, having melted onto the fresh bowtie pasta. Steak-like slice of fish, with beautifully firm flakes under a golden-brown burnish, was roasted just right. The fricassée of seasonal vegetables with aniseed chervil and elemental-marine salsify matched the refined taste of the turbot pleasingly. Buttery sweet roasting juices and mushroom emulsion beefed up this bowlful.

Roast Saddle of Lincolnshire Hare with a Tarte Fine of Celeriac and Pear

Plat Principal 2: Roast Saddle of Lincolnshire Hare with a Tarte Fine of Celeriac and Pear. Slivers of roasted saddle of hare, atop a tarte fine of celeriac and pear, beneath which was concealed sautéed spinach, were sauced with hare jus pepped with pickled pear and green peppercorns. The tarte was primped with port-glazed pear and endive and partnered with pureed celeriac. Strong flavours dominated: hare, roasted on the bone, had good earthy gaminess that stood up ably against the sweetness of the caramelised, sugared puff pastry; intensity of the winy, dense gravy; and pings of pungent pepper from the berries. The pastry, having soaked up all the syrupy juices, became sticky and flaky – an appreciated aftereffect. The silky celeriac had slight celery-anise-nuttiness, whilst the endive was bittersweet.

Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit, Mango and a Citrus Terrine

Dessert 1: Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Passionfruit, Mango and a Citrus Terrine. A long cut of cheesecake, with biscuit base and thin passion fruit jelly finish, arrived alongside orange and grapefruit segments set in more jellied passion fruit and a miniature Swiss-roll rounded off with further passion fruit and mango sphere; the terrine was mounted with mascarpone ice cream and skirted with a splash of mango. It has been sometime since my last cheesecake, but it was worth the wait: Brillat-Savarin – a triple cream cow’s cheese from Normandy – studded with vanilla seeds, was creamy and luxurious; the biscuit, crumbly; its top, fruity yet mild. Adjacent terrine was tangy, juicy and refreshing. The passion fruit-mango sphere was sated with slightly resinous, sour sap whilst the roll, moist and mascarpone, smooth and gently acidic.

Pavé of Chocolate with Griottines

Dessert 2: Pavé of Chocolate with Griottines. Tall, rectangular tower of dark chocolate fixed upon paper-thin pailleté feuilletine of pistachios and raisins, garnished with griottines - French morello cherries, pitted and preserved in kirsch – coco pencil and crème fraîche ice cream, was brought in a shallow bath of kirschwasser liqueur and cherry jus. The Valrhona 72% Guanaja mousse itself was thick, dense yet marshmallow-like; this choc, naturally with notes of toasted nut, faint fruitiness and long finish, fitted favourably with the concentrated cherry concept. Marinated morellos had sweet crispiness and each bite was a burst of slightly-bitter, nutty kirsch, allayed a little by the lively ice cream; the jus, was sweeter, but with a spicy lick from the liqueur. This was a (tasty) twist on traditional Black Forest gateau – generally composed of kirsch-scented chocolate cake, sour cherries and kirsch-laced whipped cream.

Date Soufflé with Burnt Orange and Almond Ice Cream Date Soufflé with Burnt Orange and Almond Ice Cream 2

Dessert 3: Date Soufflé with Burnt Orange and Almond Ice Cream. A flawless soufflé, fashioned with medjool date and orange juice, was embedded with burnt orange and almond ice cream at the table. The immaculate treat, shooting out of its ivory imprisonment clearly, desperately intent on escape, showed off a crusty, even surface, tanned gorgeous gold. Accompanying ice cream was very good: chopped honeyed almonds, caramelised orange purée and almond-infused ice cream, all mixed together, made for a smooth, sweet and sour, cold and crunchy complement to the hot, toffee-flavoured soufflé: I really ought to have asked for a second spoon of the stuff.

Petit Fours - Salted Caramel Truffles; and Nougat Café et Petit Fours - Salted Caramel Truffles; More Truffles and Nougat

Café et Petit Fours: Salted Caramel Truffles; More Truffles and Nougat. A brimming bowl of salt-caramel truffles and trio of nougat were teamed with good, roasted-rich espresso. Honeyed homemade nougat confection was pleasantly sticky and soft, inset with thick chunks of nut. The chocolates were moreish: crunchy, wafer-like toffee encasing velvety, sugary-sour centre. My enjoyment of them must have been more obvious than I thought as it sparked the unselfish offer of a second sample from the Square’s coco caterer, Damien Allsop that, in turn, started an impromptu mini-session of truffle-tasting.

La Cuisine La Cuisine 2

La Cuisine 3 Le Fromage

Exactly was my first thought. Chef Howard’s description of his cooking was exactly right – refined comfort food. That was exactly what I had just had nine scrumptious courses of. Execution was impeccable; portions were plentiful; combinations came off; flavours were full, distinct and definite; produce, tip-top (remember that colossal scallop); and most importantly, every dish simply tasted good. The chef’s signatures – foie gras, hare and cheesecake – were, as is standard here, superb: the kedgeree and chocolate pavé, well-worked colonial and retro classics, respectively; and the raviolo, pure indulgence. The cooking was sophisticated and serious yet satisfying and easy-to-eat at the same time. During my initial visit, starters were the strongest course and desserts weakest. This time, starters again had the edge, but plats principal and puddings closely followed, both multiple times better than previously, making this meal far superior, but also far more consistent.

Service was very good before, but this too had improved. Under David, who joined at the end of last summer, the FOH is efficient, slick and smooth. Chez Bruce is known as a friendly, neighbourhood restaurant and its former manager seems to have certainly brought some of that down-to-earth, personal charm with him here. Formally considered a bit of a businessman’s club, the atmosphere is now inviting, warm and hospitable. I, for one, felt completely comfy throughout lunch thanks to both David himself and Anthony, the young French serveuse, who also took care of me.

One of the factors that I consider separates good restaurants from great ones is generosity. Do not take this to mean that I think those places that give the most freebies are the best. I like restaurants – and I have mentioned this before – that seek to genuinely satisfy their customers; that really do give top priority to their pleasure; and that do not value a pretty penny above their guests’ gratification. The Square is generous in bucket-loads. Staff are friendly and engaging; one is never rushed in any way; even white truffle is served not as a 5g or 10g precisely appraised portion, but just grated by hand without a scale in sight – so what if an extra gram or two is given away; and, of course, there are the freebies (amuses, pre-desserts, petit-fours as a minimum) too.

This return visit has turned my opinion of this restaurant on its head. I must swallow my pride and confess I was wrong; the Square does deserve all its praise indeed. However, at least I can still take credit for being so gracious as to admit my error and being so open-minded as to have given this place another chance!

Alas, humility is hard, but humble pie has never tasted so good.

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The Square, London

The Square, London

It is Bank Holiday Monday, but W and I forgot that. We had a couple of ideas where we she wanted to dine, but they were all closed. Then inspiration hit – The Square. It has been on my list for some time and I had already made a couple of abortive reservations over the last few months, never managing to actually enjoy a meal there. I was excited.

A welcoming smile greeted us at the front door and our coats and bags were taken swift stewardship of before we were escorted over the black-and-white mosaic floor, past the wooden bar, fresh bouquets of orchids and pussy willows and large comfy couches, into the surprisingly large, very aptly square-shapen main dining area.

 

It is a modern space, quite stylish and cool, but discrete and sophisticated too. The back wall is burgundy and features three full length mirrors; the opposite wall faces onto the street outside, but large polished glass grills in front of each window limit outsiders view in. Both vellum-coloured flanks of the room are decorated with the most singular, arresting aspect of the décor: large, striking modern works of art in assertive colours by English artist Deborah Lanyon that enables The Square, if emptied, to easily impersonate a gallery. The room itself is sparsely filled with well-spaced and well-sized alternating square and circle tables, decked in pristine white starched tablecloths and taupe grey under-cloths and teamed with woollen dark russet and dark chestnut terracotta-patterned chairs. Tables are adorned with charger plates bearing Kandinsky-style Russian prints, originally from Marco Pierre White’s Hyde Park Hotel; sleek slim vases of blossoming pink rosebuds; and beautiful Christofle silverware. The colour theme is dominated by fine vanillas and creams contrasted against rich, warm browns: an immaculate white ceiling and light walls are framed by a dark wood, herringbone-parquet floor. Lighting, from recessed spotlights, randomly dotted lamps and almost-Oriental mini pendant lanterns, is quite bright. The minimalist almost functional interior educes an elegant and refined atmosphere, typified by the smart black formal attire of the staff.

The first question I asked upon our prompt receipt of the menus was whether Chef Howard was cooking tonight. He was not. Just my luck – the chef who is never away from his stove, happens to be away tonight. It turns out another chef is in charge and though his name eludes me, I know it is not Robert Weston, Howard’s number two. So, a mysterious number three is at the helm? Sounds ominous, but I am more disappointed at the current AA Chef’s Chef of the Year’s absence than at having monsieur trois cooking my dinner.

You see, Philip Howard, a softly spoken, self-effacing man who eschews the media spotlight in favour of actually running his kitchen and helping nurture young culinary talent, is acknowledged as one of the country’s best cooks – some achievement considering he is an Englishman cooking French cuisine and thus ‘competing’ against French chefs in their own jardin gastronomique.

An original path to Michelin stardom makes Howard’s story an engrossing one. First discovering cookery whilst studying microbiology at Kent University, upon graduating he almost went into pharmaceuticals, but decided instead to spend a year travelling, which culminated in a summer spent cooking in the Dordogne. Returning to London, he apprenticed with Roux Restaurants, catering in the City, but six months making sandwiches left him doubting his choices until an opportune move into directors’ dining. Here he relished the leadership, fast pace and fast learning but, ambitious by nature, nine months later, he was ready to move on. So one night, after dinner at Harvey’s (Marco Pierre White’s first fine dining restaurant), having asked to meet Marco vis-à-vis, Howard asked for a job. He got one. Aged 23, he became Harvey’s newest chef de partie. Only nine months more and he had verbally agreed to become MPW’s sous chef, when an unforgivable service cost Howard his job on the spot. Undeterred, he joined another great British chef of the time, Simon Hopkinson at Bibenbdum, spending a year under him. During this time, he and Marco made up and when MPW’s business partner, Nigel Platts-Martin, decided to open a new restaurant, he put Howard’s name forward for head chef. Thus, in 1991, with no formal training, cooking professionally for only three years and never having even been a sous chef, Howard had his own restaurant.

Though inexperienced, he was certainly not unknowledgeable: as a scientist, he understood the chemical make-up of food; his Dordogne experience had fostered a love for the hearty, lavish cuisine of south-west France; MPW taught him to appreciate elegant, sophisticated French cooking; whilst under Hopkinson, he learnt to impress with flavour and simplicity, instead of simply presentation. It took him just three years to win a Michelin star and this was with an “out of control” kitchen and menus featuring a “bizarre mismatch of things, many which [he'd] never cooked before”; he would decide each morning what to cook for dinner that evening. By 1998, finally finding his rhythm, he was awarded a second star and in 2001 moved The Square to its larger, current residence, where this story unfolds.

Sophia, our serveuse ecossaise, guided us through the menu. And what a beautifully written menu it always is. I am impressed and frustrated; impressed by the delicious dish descriptions Howard constantly composes, but frustrated by how difficult he has made it to order. The food is distinctively modern and seriously French, boasting classical ingredients and combinations of flavour and employing techniques he has refined over time to fashion his own brand of imaginative, stylish and cultured cuisine bourgeoise. The menu is also markedly seasonal; Howard divides the year into five seasons, making a sincere effort to source the choicest produce, locally whenever possible. Eventually, with Sophia’s advice on board and her making more than one trip to the kitchen to enquire whether some of our little demands could be tolerated, we were decided. Starters are the strongest part of the menu (Howard himself confesses), but being our first time here, we immediately plumped for the two signature entrées, followed by three mains and two desserts.

Amuse Bouche 1: Parmesan Sablé; Cornetto of Foie Gras; Beetroot Flag Stuffed with Goat’s Cheese; Dill & Smoked Salmon Roulade; Herb Risotto Beignet; and Anchovy Frazzle. A custom-made wooden block was presented loaded with an assortment of five different dainties. First off was a cheesy, creamy, crumbly parmesan sablé; then a crisp cornet containing a rich foie gras mousse. Next, an amusing soft beet ‘flag’ held strong goat’s cheese balanced with balsamic vinegar. A smooth, fresh roll of smoky salmon and almost-aniseed-flavoured dill followed. A warm, crunchy rice ball fritter was greaseless and molten in the middle and a crisp straw, mildly infused with anchovy, completed the canapés.

Amuse Bouche 2: Sweet Corn Bavarois with Duck Jelly Consommé. A second amuse of thick, creamed sweet corn, topped with an intense duck jelly, light tarragon foam and girolle crème and decorated with a fine pastry tuile, succeeded the first. The idea of matching the sugary corn, rich duck, bittersweet herb and earthy mushroom was decent, but the individual flavours were not clear and distinct enough, making this rather forgettable.

Les Pains: French Baguette; Walnut-Raisin; and Brown Bread. The three varieties offered were each beautifully baked and delightfully detailed. The baguette was firm and very crunchy with nicely toasted tips. The nutty-fruit bread was even better with a good crust, moist middle and excellent, not too sweet taste. I also enjoyed the dense, wholesome brown. Most appealingly, throughout dinner the bread was consistently served warm; a simple, but significant touch. Both salted and unsalted butter arrived, intricately moulded, on flat whale-shaped frosted glass tiles.

Entrée 1: Lasagne of Cornish Crab with a Cappuccino of Shellfish and Champagne Foam. Alternating layers of circular cuts of crab and pasta came immersed in a thick, basil-infused langoustine and scallop mousseline and surrounded by a foam bath of champagne. The crab was fresh and sweet; the pasta, al dente. A serious, herby bisque-like shellfish sauce lay over the lasagne whilst an ethereally light and refreshing, coral-coloured champagne froth filled the bowl. This was delicate and airy, but buttery-rich and bursting with deep flavours; it was liquid luxury.

Entrée 2: Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle. Three totem poles, each constructed with its own lush langoustine showpiece topped with crispy onion ringlets, were set on individual parmesan pasta dumpling plinths doused in a plashet of potato-truffle emulsion; a liberal garnish of girolle purée accompanied the shellfish spires. The juicy langoustines tails were firm and bouncy, contrasting nicely with the creamy, soft gnocchi and crunchy onions. The already well-balanced, classic combination of salty-sweet shellfish and earthy mushroom was further enhanced with robust, musty truffle and subtly sweet onion. Another excellent dish.

Plat Principal 1: “Bouillabaisse” with Sardine Chantilly. Bouillabaisse is something both W and I find irresistible so, after our starters, we snuck in one order to share between us. Superb servings of a selection of fish – sea bass, gurnard and monkfish – together with a scallop, a squid ink ravioli and spoonful of scampi mousseline sat on a warm pepperade of capsicum with a tuile cracker of anchovy paste. Tableside, a broth of more fish – sea bass, red mullet and John Dory – and aioli was poured over the seafood medley. The thick fillets of fish were tasty and well cooked, bar the slightly overdone sea bass. The scallop was good, pasta correct and anchovy pleasantly powerful. However, the pepperade was much too salty and almost inedible; the sauce was seasoned distinctly with garlic, but struggled to offer anything more; and there was not a trace of one essential bouillabaisse ingredient, saffron, whose spicy sharpness was surely missed. The speech marks within this dish’s title ought to have been a clue not to expect a “traditional” version of this classic and later we were told the objective here was to use a simple sauce to showcase quality fish; it showed.

Plat Principal 2: Fish of the Day – Roast Fillet of Turbot with Parmesan Gnocchi, Cep Mushroom, Golden Beetroot, Jerusalem Artichoke and Baby Spring Onion. A pleasing piece of roasted turbot, on a bed of parmesan gnocchi, porcini and artichoke slices, small golden beets and their wilted leaves and whole bulbs of baby spring onion, was lightly bathed in a golden yellow beurre blanc bath. The flaky fish, cooked until its pristine white flesh had tanned lovely ochre, had retained all its deliciously mild taste. It was complemented by smooth pasta, crunchy beetroot, spinach-like beet leaves and nutty artichoke. Earthy, creamy ceps, mushroom royalty, matched the meaty, refined turbot. Of special note were the sweet little onions, which dissembled in the mouth delightfully.

Plat Principal 3: Breast of Gressingham Duck with a Tarte Fine of Caramelised Endive and Glazed Figs. The perfectly pink duck, resting in a reduction of its own juices, was dished with a warm tarte fine of endive, fig quenelle and orange purée. The tender, juicy duck had a good sticky, sweet skin and rich sauce. The short pastry crumbled nicely and countered the bitter, peppery leaves, whilst the opposingly saccharine fig confit and bitter orange balanced agreeably. Textures also played their part with the soft duck, flaky tarte and grainy jam working well together. These bold flavours and beautiful breast of duck were impressive.

Pre-dessert: Sweet Tomato & Vanilla. Preceding desserts was a shot glass, filled with a base of vanilla and sweet tomato yoghurt below a thin layer of apple coulis and rounded off with blackcurrant mousse, coupled with a warm sugar beignet. The concentrated fruity berry and apple cut through the thick, homemade sour yoghurt. The fluffy dough nugget was excellent; super light, sweet and handy for dipping into the shot glass.

Dessert 1: Warm Roasted Pears with Tiramisu, ‘Dulce de Leche’ Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Nougatine. Warm roast pear halves were dotted around a circular tiramisu sponge and accompanied by a feuille-wrapped cappuccino crème, dollop of dulce de leche ice cream and dense dash of coffee jelly. The dish was also sprinkled with biscuit crumbs and splashes of salty caramel nougatine. The tiramisu, though of decent consistency, was rather too full with rum for my liking and the ice cream and caramel forgettable. That said, the pears, soft, sweet and moist, were nice, as was the inclusion of cappuccino and strong coffee. Excepting these little highlights, the flavours were weak, indistinct and disconcerted.

Dessert 2: Fondant of Chocolate with Almond Milk Purée and Caramelised Almond and Orange Ice Cream. A dark cocoa fondant covered in thick, warm chocolate sauce was served with an almond-orange ice cream sitting upon burnt crumble chips; splurges of almond milk purée and a white chocolate tuile adorned the plate. The cake was light and moist with a molten liquid middle, with the chocolate itself delightfully intense and rich, but again, the rest of the dish failed to make an impact.

Petit Fours 1: Dairy-free Caramel Truffles and Orangettes. We forwent coffee, but welcomed these after-dinner treats, which took the form of dusty, well-formed truffles filled with mild caramel centres and chewy, chocolate-dipped matchsticks of orange rind; both of which had been made without dairy (probably more as a proof of skill, rather than to improve the taste).

Petit Fours 2: Assortment of Jellies – Apple Cider & Vanilla Jelly; Pineapple & Blueberry Jelly; Confit of Grapefruit; Turkish Delight; and Raspberry Summer Roll. In true haute-cuisine mode, the gifts kept coming. A spray of small jelly lollipops in five flavours finished off dinner. These tangy treats included a particularly memorable sweet, subtle grapefruit; sour, creamy Turkish delight; and sugary Swiss roll – although, all tasted fresh, fruity and distinct.

Service throughout the meal was good enough to convince me all the FOH problems I recently read about have been successfully resolved. The staff were polite, inquisitive, on the spot when required, but discreet at all other times; we were always accommodated and never rushed. Sophia, in particular, proved able, attentive and charming.

Without a doubt, the cooking is considered and there is talent in the kitchen – members of Howard’s brigade took all the podium places at the last Young Chef Awards – but I cannot help but have mixed feelings. Entrées were excellent and mains generally good, but desserts disappointed and this gradual diminuendo of enjoyment has no doubt prejudiced my final thoughts against the meal; I am sure that had we finished on a high, having started unimpressively, I would now feel very differently. After all, there were plenty of positive points: produce throughout was first rate, seasonal and fresh; if I ignore the bouillabaisse, technique tonight was faultless; if I also disregard desserts, then the dishes were all well-crafted and satisfying.

Therefore, I shall not be writing The Square off just yet. I will return, but with some simple caveats: first, I will have to confirm that Chef Howard will be behind the stove; and secondly, I will stick to fruity or pastry puddings (I have read somewhere these are more the kitchen’s forte). After all, in spite of everything, I know that sumptuous, innovative dishes, rich raw materials, serious flavours and precision cooking are all the necessary ingredients for a legitimately indulgent experience – an experience I would savour.

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