Thursday, 1 October 2015

London - The Square

I almost don't know where to begin, honestly.

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks working out of London, which was exciting enough on its own, but even more so given my love of fine dining.  With a veritable smorgasbord of incredible restaurants on offer, how would I ever be able to narrow the choice down to just a few special dining establishments?

Let me start off by saying, I couldn't get into my first, second or third choice restaurants, even though I had plenty of time to book.  Let's just say that some restaurants are almost impossible to get into, and leave it at that.  As I worked my way down my list of restaurants I'd dreamed about dining in, I finally found a lunchtime spot available at Mayfair stalwart The Square by Phil Howard.

With two Michelin Stars held since 1998, The Square is an institution in London and chef and co-owner Phil Howard regarded as arguably one of the best chefs in Europe.  In fact, in an Instagram conversation with a former alumni of the Square, a guy that runs one of the best restaurants in Brisbane, it was put to me that the Square and Phil Howard were responsible for producing and inspiring thousands of top chefs globally.  The reverence in which both are held were clear and I knew I would be in for a treat.

I'd only been in the UK for a few hours, booking lunch at the Square as part of my strategy to stay awake - as well as starting my stint in London with a bang.  My reservation was for noon and I'd arrived quite early, needing to familiarise myself with the area and, to be honest, I was more than a little excited. As soon as the clock struck noon, I sauntered into The Square, soaking up the ambiance and committing everything to memory.  Of course I was the first into the restaurant, pretty standard, and was shown to an elegant looking table with the requisite white linen and decorated with an artistic plate that reminded of a Kandinsky masterpiece.

While I was given the rundown of the a la carte and lunchtime tasting menu, I only had on thing on my mind, and that was the full degustation.  I made my choice clear, then ordered a bottle of still mineral water to help me rehydrate after a long flight.

First to arrive was a trio of amuse bouche, looking incredible and giving me some insight into the meal that was to follow.  I started with the squid ink 'cracker', covered with a lemon foam and micro herbs, then moved onto a langoustine croquette and finished with a foie gras 'cornetto'.  Each of the small bites had incredible flavour profiles, all working in perfect harmony and each building on the last.  There wasn't a need to over complicate things, and the simple ingredients were imaginatively used.

The tasting menu commenced with 'Tomatoes', consisting of Black Russian, Noire de Crimée and Green Zebra then finished with Organic Curd and Barrel Aged Olive Oil.  You use all of your senses when eating and sight and smell kicked into overdrive.  The dish was beautifully yet simply presented with several different tomatoes adding colour and texture to the plate, with a 'cigar' of organic curd.  I was staggered with the powerful and intense flavour of tomato that seemed almost unreal and so perfectly balanced.

I consider myself both a fan and a connoisseur of tartare, having tried innumerable versions over the years.  The Square version took the humble tartare and turned it on it's head with beautiful presentation and laser like precision.  The tartare of milk fed veal with burratina, an insanely buttery and soft mozzarella, looked a little milky on the plate, but was almost ethereally good. Accompanied by a Corsican white peach, summer artichoke and fennel pollen, I took increasingly small bites of the dish as it disappeared on my plate, not wanting the flavours to ever end.  As I reflect back on this dish, I realise that it's most likely the best food I have ever eaten.

The next course was not too much to look at, but it's quite difficult to present a velouté in a dramatic way.  However, the magic was all happening underneath the surface of the creamy looking soup.  The warm velouté of Cornish mussels with salt cod had a depth of flavour and complexity that could only have come from a master at the top of his game.  Hidden within the velouté was a slow cooked quails egg, which once burst open, added an extra dimension to the dish.  Along side the dish was a rectangle of toast with smoked eel and Oscietra caviar, and while it felt a little disconnected from the velouté visually, the flavours connected together wonderfully.

I was apprehensive about the next course, which was described as lasagne of Dorset crab with cappuccino of shellfish and champaign.  There's a place in Brisbane that is renowned for it's crab lasagne which I've never taken to, so I was expecting something similar.  I could not have been more wrong, both with visual appeal and flavour.  The dish was small and dainty and to be honest unrecognisable as a lasagne, but it did look refined and the aroma emanating from the plate was making me salivate.  The shellfish and champaign bisque was perfect, incredible, sweet with a subtle bite of the shellfish complimenting the ever so subtle champaign flavour.  The lasagne itself was simple layers of pastry and crab, with the sweetness of the crab shining through and complimenting the bisque to perfection.

The weakest dish of the tasting menu was up next, and I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, as it was still a spectacular dish.  Looking pretty as a picture on the plate was a roast John Dory fillet with linzer potatoes, razor clams, cockles (a favourite from my youth), wild sea kale and bottarga. There were soft flavours of the sea which were refreshing and complex at the same time, with an exquisitely cooked piece of Dory sitting at the centrepiece.  It was a decent plate of food that suffered from following such an intensely flavoured dish, expertly cooked.  I think I'd have preferred the dishes swapped around on the menu, which would have had a profound effect on the tasting menu as a whole.

As a special treat, we deviated somewhat from the tasting menu.  Clearly taking pity on a weary traveller, or suspicious of my relentless photographing of the food, I was actually presented with a dish off the a la carte menu next.  Either way, I was pretty stoked when a plate of Iberico ham cooked several ways and accompanied by burnt pineapple and a sweet jus was carefully placed in front of me.  I love Iberico based food substances, it's the absolute pinnacle of pork.  The pork chop was as refined a piece of cooking as I've come across an was sweet and delectable, especially when paired with the sticky jus.  Even through it was hugely appreciated and quite wonderful, it meant that I was starting to fill up with a few courses remaining!

Back on track with the tasting menu, a simply sublime dish of a fillet and short rib of dry aged beef with caramelised onion, parsley and garlic puree, duxelles of girolles and red wine was next.  That it looked beautiful was expected by now, but the depth of flavour that came from the perfectly cooked beef, especially when combining the puree and the jus, was unbelievable.  The beef was so tender, it almost melted on the palate, and it worked wonderfully with the slightly burnt onion and mushroom.  I could not think of a better dish to finish off the savoury part of the meal.

I loved the presentation of the first dessert, which was really a cheese course.  There was a glistening sheen from the blackcurrant coulis that covered the quenelle of sour cream.  There were contrasting textures from some crispy meringue, which also provided a hit of sweetness to combat the sour cream and sharp coulis.

I loved the name of the next dish, which was called 'damson fool', a glass topped with a sweet cream along with berry granita.  Contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures provided a stunningly simply palate cleanser.  I was ready for the final course.

Now, I've never been a fan of tiramisu, there is something about the chocolate and coffee mixture that doesn't sit well for me, however, The Square version of the Italian dessert now has me wondering why.  It was an interesting looking deconstruction of a tiramisu, all angles, contrasting shapes and flavours.  No single component was overpowering and the sweetness from the thick cream helped neutralise the strong coffee and chocolate flavour.  It wasn't the best dessert I've ever had, but in concert with the tasting menu, it was a superb way to finish.

There is something about solo dining that I quite like, even when visiting one of the finest restaurants in the world.  Don't get me wrong, it would have been a perfect date spot and I certainly wished that SC had been dining with me, but I had a great time interacting and talking to the incredibly well trained wait staff.  They were friendly and I really appreciated their company, especially helpful while suffering remarkable jet lag.

For me, food simply does not get better than at The Square, in fact, it took me only a few moments of reflection as I left the restaurant to realise I'd had the finest meal of my life.  The Square had rocketed to number one on my list of meals, it will now be the benchmark for which I compare all future meals.  What does surprise me though is why the heck isn't The Square a three Michelin Star restaurant?

I haven't stopped thinking about, or talking about my meal.  I simply cannot wait until my next visit to London, where I plan on making a beeline directly to The Square, hopefully with the girl.

The Square by Philip Howard
White linen and beautiful setting - must be fine dining
I really appreciated the water after suffering jet lag
One of the petite four, a lovely sweet tartlet
Last bite of petite four was this tiny little block of white chocolate

The Square Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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