30 July 2014

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Kitchen Confidential: Phil Howard


Kitchen Confidential: Phil Howard - phil_1.jpgPhil Howard, chef/proprietor of The Square in Mayfair, talks Stuart Peskett through the kitchen of his Barnes home

I’ve been here with my family for 10 years. We lived in Fulham before, but Barnes is green, leafy and calm, and it’s great for the kids. The house hadn’t been changed in any way for about 50 years – as is often the case in Barnes – but we put in an extra floor at the top of the house, fully extended the ground floor and completely changed the kitchen. It all took about a year, so we ended up eating out rather a lot.

The original kitchen was minute, and very tatty; there was a microwave and a little one-ring electric hob. In terms of the design, I’m very much from the less-is-more school – no cupboards. And the worktops are solid concrete, which is the best kitchen work surface. It is rock solid and it feels nice. We couldn’t have it in the restaurant, because of the wear and tear, but at home, it’s perfect.

Now that we’ve got kids [Amelia, 17, and Al, 13], we cook a lot at home. I don’t try and recreate what we do in the restaurant; I just buy really good ingredients and cook them simply, like tomato and mozzarella salad, or a great rib-eye steak or roast chicken. There are some good places to eat round here, too: The Brown Dog, Riva and Strada, and of course Sonny’s, which I’ve just reopened as Sonny’s Kitchen with restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas.

I’m usually at home at the weekend, but The Square has been open for Saturday lunch since November, so sometimes I’ll go in and then take a day off during the week. I always get up early, about 6am, and deal with my emails, and then I either go into work at 7am to beat the traffic, or take the kids to school and go in later. But I have a break in the middle of the day – I get an energy lull at 4pm, so I go for a run.

I still derive a huge amount of pleasure from cooking, and that has not changed since day one. I don’t have a huge desire to reinvent the wheel, but nor do I want to be left behind, so it’s important to acknowledge that cooking is moving forward. I learned a lot from other chefs when I was on Great British Menu, so I’ve started using liquid nitrogen, for example. And I’ve no plans to retire. The lease on The Square runs out in 14 years. I’m 45 now, so stopping when I turn 59 would be ideal.

Phil Howard is chef/proprietor of The Square (6-10 Bruton Street, W1J 6PU; 020 7495 7100), and is also consultant chef at Sonny’s Kitchen (94 Church Road, SW13 0DQ; 0208748 0393). See review on p34.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - table.jpgDining table

This is a classic French farmhouse table. It’s the first thing that my wife, Jennie, and I spent some proper money on. It’s made of elm, and we bought it at an antique shop just down the road in Barnes.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - shaker.jpgSugar shaker

This was my grandmother’s. There is a difference between sprinkling sugar from a shaker and just spooning it on. This sounds really anal, but the shaker delivers the sugar exactly how you want it.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - vinager_pot.jpgVinegar maker

This was a present from a friend. If you’re making your own vinegar, you need to start with a ‘mother’, rather like making sourdough, and then you just add the dregs from wine bottles.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - jars.jpgFood jars

I got most of these from a shop on Portobello Road. They’re looking pretty battered, and they’re actually too big for most things, but they’re great for pasta. My kids could eat pasta until the cows come home.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - comb.jpgGarganelli comb

I bought these in Milan, from a little antique food equipment shop. They make these unique sealed pasta tubes. I bought 10, and I always said that I’d retire when they all broke. There are two left…

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - veg.jpgVegetable patch

This is the first year that we’ve planted this bed. We’ve got sorrel, parsley, borage, beetroot, a few tomatoes, courgettes and some lovely lettuce. Growing your own veg is very satisfying.

Kitchen confidential Phil Howard - knife.jpgKnife

I’m not a knife geek l, but I love this and use it all the time. I bought it at the Henley Food Festival. It’s from Kin Knives in Japan – the designers over there are almost celebrities. kinknives.com

Phil Howard's cookbook, The Square: The Cookbook: Volume 1: Savoury, is published by Absolute Press in September 2012 (price: £40).

This feature was published in the summer 2012 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.

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