23 August 2014

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Philip Howard - The Square


It’s no mean feat remaining at the pinnacle of excellence. But since The Square opened in 1991, this polished and effortlessly confident operation has kept its place among the capital’s very best dining rooms, year in and year out.

BMW Square Meal Award - Philip Howard What’s more, this is a restaurant that has deliberately raised the bar for itself, a process kick-started by a sensitive refurbishment in 2006 and continued ever since in the evolution of its cooking. ‘The biggest challenge,’ says chef Philip Howard, ‘is to marry the kind of food people enjoy eating to the kind of food one is expected to deliver at the absolute top end.’ It’s a challenge that he and his team more than live up to.

Meals start with a selection of canapés that prove every bit as diverting as the food to come, from a pastry cone of spectacularly intense foie gras parfait to the almost Japanese delicacy of a salmon and pickled cucumber roulade: nothing fiddly, just perfectly judged flavours and contrasting textures.

Starters proper might include a stunningly presented lasagne of Devon crab: pasta interleaved with crab-claw meat and bound with a scallop mousseline, steamed and served with a Champagne and scallop foam. The ingredients complement each other with their sweetness, but also shine with individual, clearly defined flavour.

To follow, assiette of Middle White pork is an object lesson in how to get the most out of a single ingredient and demonstrates an utter mastery of kitchen technique. The loin is roasted on the bone; the shoulder is slow-roasted, mixed with prunes, onions and apple, then wrapped in potato spaghetti and deep-fried; the rolled belly is braised before being sliced and pan-fried; and the legs are minced and made into a sausage. Each delivers deeply satisfying sensations without being overpoweringly rich.

The Square Restaurant LondonThe enjoyment continues right to the end, with a rice pudding soufflé cooked in the oven, blended with egg white and baked on a soufflé dish lined with biscotti crumbs. Served with prune and Armagnac ice-cream, it’s a terrific combination of good old-fashioned familiarity and thoroughly accomplished technique.

Clearly, this is labour-intensive cooking that demands high prices, though the size of the final bill is by no means outlandish. And compared to many other of the capital’s famous dining rooms that fail to achieve this level of consistency, The Square offers very good value for money indeed.

The kitchen nous of Howard and his team is backed up by the front-of-house staff, led by Laurent Chaniac – ex L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon – who has replaced long-term general manager Jacques Carlino. Meanwhile, sommelier Christopher Delalonde is evolving the wine list beyond its natural French heartland into New World territory, and the fairness of its prices puts much of its competition to shame.

In the words of one hedge fund manager, ‘It’s a simple business if you get it right: fantastic surroundings, high quality food and staff who remember my name and make me feel very special. Consequently I always take my important guests to The Square.’ And we recommend that you do too.

Editorial feature from Square Meal Guide 2008

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