Excellent food never goes out of fashion. This is why, after over twenty years under the direction of chef and co-owner Phil Howard, The Square is still considered to be one of the best restaurants in London. Serving modern French cuisine, with great attention paid to the sourcing of quality, seasonal ingredients, it is a dining experience which must be savoured rather than rushed, and the elegant setting and friendly manner of the staff contribute to the occasion almost as much as the food. I say almost, not because there was anything lacking in the décor or the service, but because the meal was simply outstanding.
Due to the awful July weather, the entire population of London had taken to the roads, the traffic was chaotic and birthday girl Charlotte and I might have been considered to be rather unfashionably late. However, we were graciously welcomed by restaurant manager Cesar Lopes and shown to our table by our waiter, Mauro, who made enthusiastic recommendations when asked what we should order. We were also quickly provided with a glass of Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvee St Anne by sommelier Mohamed Mossad, which went a considerable way to reassuring us that our tardiness was forgiven.
Charlotte and I, while intrigued by the tasting menu, were struck by a folie à deux which led us to order from the more substantial À La Carte menu, having spied some dishes that we were keen to try but that were not on the tasting menu. Believing that our hunger warranted this feast, we promptly began by sampling some of the freshly baked bread, unaware of the course of reckless indulgence upon which we had embarked . . .
My starter was impressive from the moment of its dramatic presentation. The tasting of Cornish mackerel with oysters and caviar was the winner of the BBC’s Great British Menu 2012. On one plate, there was a smoked mackerel velouté, a tartare of mackerel with fried mussel and grilled mackerel with sea water jelly. On another plate was a cloche which was lifted to release a glorious cloud of aromatic smoke – and revealed an oyster beignet with caviar. This dish was wonderfully creative and took full advantage of the unique and delicious flavour of mackerel in a variety of sensory experiences. The wine, an Oberhauser Brucke Reisling Spatlese 2007, was zingy and fresh, which meant that it stood up well against the strong tasting food.
Our amuse-bouche was a single Isle of Orkney scallop, roasted to perfection and served on coco beans and mousserons. The light and delicate flavour of the beans made a nice first dish, at a point in the meal where the palate has not yet been subjected to a variety of complex flavours, and the juicy scallop was of epic proportions; the dish was easily large enough to be a starter. When Charlotte commented on the size, Mauro smiled and told her that her chosen starter was similarly proportioned. That dish, a sauté of Scottish Langoustine tails with parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle, was presented in three stacks and, true to Mauro’s advice, the seafood was fat and juicy. It was paired with a Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2010, which Charlotte said complemented the sweetness of the langoustines very well.
Mauro had convinced us to order a mid-course to allow us to sample another of the starters and we were not disappointed. The lasagne of Dorset crab with a cappuccino of shellfish and champagne foam silenced us both, which is no mean feat. Mohamed chose a different wine for each of us, a smooth and clean Pinot Blanc “Mise du Printemps” 2011 for me and a Vouvray Silex Noir for Charlotte. After tasting both, we each decided that we preferred our own, proving that Mohamed was not just a knowledgeable sommelier but also a skilled mind-reader!
With the main course, however, it was time to move onto the reds. A fine, smoky, Californian Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir 2009 was paired with my roast calves’ sweetbreads, which were served with cauliflower, girolles, creamy crushed broad beans and a little grated mimolette. I had been hoping to try sweetbreads for some time and this two Michelin starred restaurant seemed the right place to enjoy them at their best. The melt-in-the-mouth texture and distinct but subtle flavour were perfectly complemented by the crisp potato chips and the creamy beans and, providing I can be assured of similar excellence, I will be ordering sweetbreads again. Charlotte had chosen the breast of Barbary duck with tarte fine of caramelised endive that was crisp and salty, new seasons turnips and sharp cherries that cut through the richness of the dish. Her wine was a robust Chateauneuf du Pape 2004 from D. Brunier in Domain La Roquete, which echoed the food in its dark berry notes.
Service at The Square is attentive and perfectly timed, and no one would begrudge hours so whiled away but, however you do it, a seven course lunch requires time. It was fast becoming clear to us that plans we had for continued birthday celebrations later in the day would have to be postponed. Certainly we were in no hurry to leave the restaurant and the emergence of the cheese trolley, with all its intense aromas, was the only incentive we needed to agree to another course before the sweet. Mauro again showed his skill in presenting the cheeses and we enjoyed a variety which ranged from brie to blue, all full of character and brilliant with a glass of Grahams 1985 Vintage Port.
Finally, we ordered a dessert to share but, somehow, the gracious staff persuaded us to have one each… and then presented us with a pre-dessert which we had not ordered. The poached white peach with fresh verbena and raspberry ripple ice cream was a fruity sensation, and the accompanying Piedmont Moscato D’Asti 2011 was delightfully sweet and crisp.
The dessert which we had ordered arrived a moment later, complete with piped-chocolate birthday message for Charlotte. Despite our best intentions, by this point we were struggling slightly. The milk chocolate bar with salted peanuts, praline and banana was a daunting challenge and, although the silky and crunchy textures were as intriguing as the rest of the meal, we both admitted defeat part way through, especially since the wine was a strong 15 year old Maury from Mas Amiel, Roussillon, possibly the last straw for a spoiled stomach. Sensing our replete contentedness, Mauro and General Manager Ben ensured our petit fours were boxed up and given to us to take away.
We were the last customers to leave, having enjoyed an excellent, generous lunch with genuinely friendly and accommodating service. The birthday message on Charlotte’s final plate was a very thoughtful touch and we were both very grateful to The Square for providing the best possible start to the celebrations. Whether it is a special occasion or you are simply dropping in for a set lunch, this restaurant will make you feel like the most important person in the world. And you might as well get used to it; with their splendid menu and attention to detail, The Square looks likely to remain hip for some time to come.
Food photographs by Lady Charlotte Lynham
6-10 Bruton Street
London W1J 6PU