"The Square is a timeless classic restaurant that you can rely on"Review Rating: Reviewed by KimT
Hidden in the heart of Mayfair, just off Berkeley Square – where the majority of people are hedge fund managers, property dealers or wealthy tourists – is The Square and I decided to invite a former senior colleague who I had known from my real estate days.
It must be 12 years since I was first taken there by a foodie friend/writer – and I loved the experience then (much more than some of the other fantastic places that I went to at that time) and although my memories have been blurred by time it felt pleasantly familiar when I returned.
The evening didn’t get off to a great start though. We arrived 10 minutes after our 615pm slot to be advised that the restaurant wasn’t quite open and to have a drink in the small area of sofas. I ordered a gin and tonic and my companion a vodka and tonic – but the waiter then asked which of the various gin brands he would like. We sipped on our Bombay Sapphire (me) and Absolut (him) and reflected on how empty and quiet the place was during the early evening.
One of the many staff showed us to our table and I admired the Miroesque design on the plates – I remembered that the flatware had made an impression before. Eagerly we started studying the menu – saddened that we probably didn’t have time for the tasting menu which everyone I spoke to had recommended.
As we were busy chatting, our selections took some time but the staff were really pleasant and not in the least fussed about us taking so long. Instead, they provided a choice of three canapés – there were warm salt fish croquettes, tiny cones standing upright in their own purpose-built holders containing a smooth foie gras pate and – my favourite – black rice crackers looking like the sails of a pirate ship with a dish of impossibly creamy taramasalata. We were also offered a selection of bread rolls and given both salted and unsalted butter.
The wine list is formidable – a heavy tome with an incredible selection and prices to make your eyes water. As it was a school night we decided that we would each have a glass of Viognier and see how we got on. The requested tap water was presented in a stunning modern frosted carafe.
Then came the amuses bouche – shot glasses containing a cauliflower foam covering a thick chicken consomme and topped with thyme breadcrumbs. I admit that I didn’t eat all of mine.
Completely unable to resist crab (despite the supplement) and knowing that the co-owner Phil Howard places such an emphasis on fresh produce I ordered the lasagne of Dorset and Alaskan crab with a cappuccino
of shellfish and Champagne foam. The timbale had delicate layers of thin green lasagne separating the crab (which was the perfect temperature) surrounded by a sea of frothiness which gently fizzed until melting in my mouth evoking a real sense of ocean spray. Simply amazing.
My companion has chosen the salad of Cornish skate, smoked halibut and mussels with a red wine, anchovy and garlic dressing. I liked the somewhat scattered nature of its presentation and watched as he picked out the prizes (including some samphire, new potatoes and sprouting broccoli) from between the leaves.
Then the main courses. My companion’s breast of Barbary duck was a minor miracle of construction – the ultra thin layers of beautifully cooked duck looked a little like Boris’ City Hall. This came with a tarte fine of caramelised endive and a somewhat overpowering burnt orange puree (he actually mentioned marmalade) swirled over the side of the plate. He felt that the duck was so tender that it really didn’t need much accompaniment.
I felt that I had made the superior choice here - roast fillets of John Dory (the skin was crispy) with pumpkin Gnocchi, chanterelles,
salsify and Parmesan. It looked so stunning on the plate that I really wanted to take a photo – it was a work of art. This prompted a little conversation about the Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy although I was a little wrapped up in the flavours (hints of the truffle) to pay full attention.
The pre desserts were a marvel – shot glasses containing zingy champagne jelly and foam topped by a tiny warm doughnut sprinkled liberally with sugar. Yes, doughnut. Being a stickler for habit I chose the crème caramel with candied winter fruit (of which there was a large amount) and warm blood orange brioche roulade. But my companion won on this round with his choice of New Season’s Yorkshire rhubarb, mascarpone, jellies with rhubarb juice and Sauternes. I stole a spoonful of this confection and I am unable to describe the mixture of flavours and textures – not tart, not sweet but incredible - rhubarb and cream on steroids. Probably the high point of the entire meal.
We didn’t want coffee but were presented with a rainbow array of petites fours on sticks. I was delighted with a piece of pineapple in a red coating. My companion enjoyed a roulade with a cream and caramel base. The tiny box – no doubt containing a small morsel of sweet something – I gave to my companion to take home – as I thought I’d probably done my calorie allowance for the week.
Whilst it was a fantastic treat, my own palate probably isn’t refined enough to fully appreciate the gastronomic excellence of The Square. And whilst the dark red, womb-like décor with its tasteful and subtle paintings and calm atmosphere is relaxing, I think I prefer my eating environment to be a little more informal and with a bit more soul. By the time we left, the place was almost full – mostly with business folk although there were one or two older couples and a French family.
However, I must say that the staff (and there are lots of them) couldn’t have been more discrete, friendly and accommodating – not a hint of the sort of aloofness that you sometimes find in such fine dining establishments – and we felt entirely comfortable asking all sorts of probably rather silly questions about what we were eating.
My companion agreed. He felt we had enjoyed a good evening but for a two star restaurant he was a little disappointed by the experience and said “possibly the Michelin regime forces them to do the canapés, amuses bouches, pre-dessert and petites fours (sans coffee!) but it was too much and, possibly, detracted a little from the three food choices we did actually make – indeed almost overwhelmed them”.
These are minor gripes – overall the food was splendid - .and with a bill for £240 pounds it certainly should be. The Square is a timeless classic restaurant that you can rely on if you want to quietly impress or if you were out to celebrate with some food fanatics. The Square was etched in my memory from previous visits and I am delighted to say that it still a most impressive and welcoming place.
KimT reviewed The Square on Tue 20 Mar 2012