The Square, it's hip to be Square 2010
The Square got so much right early on in the meal that we wondered if this was a restaurant that would blow away the London two star competition and even perhaps relegate our firm favourite Marcus Wareing to a passing second place. Later on during the lunch service though, they did hit some bumpy ground and while we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and will certainly go back, there remains areas that they need to address if they want to really surpass the competition.
Our visit to The Square was prompted by Bordeaux Index’s free corkage offer in conjunction with The Square and The Ledbury and it seemed like a good opportunity to try somewhere new and take some plonk from our home cellar. With a view that we really ought to do the tasting menu, it put us on a free corkage conundrum so we decided on taking a bottle of Cristal as a pre lunch drink and a palate refresher through the meal itself. The Square handled the ‘bring your own bottle’ scenario nicely and made us feel welcome from the outset. Service was friendly and the table setting beautifully presented even before food arrived.
With nine course to come, there was no amuse bouche which we approved of and the menu started out with salad of tomatoes with goat’s curd, basil jelly, crushed olive, balsamic cream, rock salt, Tuscan olive oil and pepper. This was a delightful starter with a huge taste components and a great variation on a tomato starter with the balsamic cream a great change from a traditional vinegar drizzle. The tomato infused olive oil was a delight and despite knowing so much more food was on the way, cleaning the bowl with focaccia bread seemed required. A great start then.
To follow this was a Square signature dish. Lasagne of Dorset crab with shellfish cappuccino and champagne foam. The shellfish cappuccino was the star of this dish and could have been served by itself because the flavour was so full. The champagne foam didn’t work or rather, had little or no taste of champagne with the shellfish infusion in the foam itself dominating that also. The crab too was backward on the palate with little by way of crab texture but the spinach pasta surround was unusually good. With the shellfish cappuccino imparting so much flavour, this dish was nevertheless a delight to eat and we applauded their original take.
Keeping on the seafood theme – there’s a lot of it on the menu at The Square – the crab was followed by sauté of Scottish langoustine tails with Parmesan gnocchi and an emulsion of potato and truffle. First up, the presentation of this dish was beautiful with a plump langoustine tail sitting on top of the gnocchi with a north-south emulsion smear elevating the dish to the level of art. This is what you hope two star dining should be and both the quality of the langoustine (one of the plumpest we’ve ever been served) and the gnocchi (Mrs CC says the best she’s ever been served) elevate the dish. This was complimented by a buttery and earthy 2002 Mersault Charmes.
Roast foie gras with a compote of cherries and a sweet and sour citrus glaze was next up. The foie gras itself had been cooked sous vide and was richly plump but an extra layer of texture and delight was puffed rice and honeycomb on top the foie gras to provide new taste and textures with an old favourite. Also new was the wine pairing which, rather than a usual Sauternes, was a plum infused sake, Akashi Tai - Shiraume Umeshu, which again makes us aware that they’re willing to do their own thing rather than rely on traditional combinations.
The last of the fish courses was fillet of halibut with a puree of peas, Lardo Di Colonnata, glazed lettuce and red wine. This again was a beautiful dish with the fish cooked perfectly and with the lardo melted on top of the halibut, fused and inseparable and delightfully yummy, by this stage we really were thinking that The Square was a complete success.
The lamb course that followed was the first of the bumps in the road. A herb crusted loin of lamb with shallot puree, artichoke, tomato and garlic, the lamb had no flavour. It didn’t seem to us that it had been cooked wrong, it simply didn’t have flavour. When they came to clear the plates and asked us how we enjoyed it and we pointed out this fact, they were somewhat taken aback and seemed at a loss. Is this the legacy of the customary reserve of the British clientele that even when the dish has no flavour they are told that ‘everything’s fine’ and accordingly when a guest finally says ‘no flavour’ they’re so far off script they don’t know what to say? We were then told the chef was on a break so not available to try it and presented with the lamb procurement form that showed it was from the Rhug Estate as if that settled the matter. Well, it didn’t; we recognise that the Rhug Estate is a well regarded supplier but the evidence was on our plate.
Overall this was not a big deal though had we not had the tasting menu but ordered a standard lunch with the lamb as the main dish, our view of the restaurant might be very different. This was where The Square faltered, they just didn’t seem to know what to do; it was if we shouldn’t have really mentioned the inconvenient fact.
After the lamb was ‘A Tasting of Chevrotin’. As ‘cookipedia’ notes ‘Chevrotin cheese is a raw goats' milk cheese made in the Haute Savoie region of France. It is a soft, almost sweet, aromatic cheese with a yellowish rind and a white mould’. Again, beautifully presented in two forms – rind on and a much softer semi liquid – it came with figs and a black grape jelly. The bread served alongside though was too ‘doughy’ which again seemed to upset them when we pointed this out.
The first of the sweet deserts was a crème brûlée with cherries which was a great little dish, again, attractively presented with what seemed to be a raspberry ripple ice cream on top though slightly strange in this respect since the second desert was a raspberry ripple soufflé with yoghurt ice cream. Both deserts were very well done and the soufflé a great example of the kind.
Overall then, this was great food with originality and vision. The service too was friendly and the dining environment attractive. Only one plate was a disappointment, the non tasting lamb of course, and a minor issue with the bread that accompanied the goats cheese. What let them down most though was their reaction to feedback which seemed to leave them at a loss of knowing what to do when it wasn’t gushing.
So much was so well done that we would definitely go back. Having recently reviewed on this blog Le Gavroche, for sure they’re head and shoulders above that venerable institution, but if they really want to be the best of the best they should understand that feedback from diners is crucial to improvement and is in fact an order of magnitude more valuable than ego puffing undeserved praise. They really are very very good and could conceivably be in a class of their own but for that, they will need a little bit of introspection.
Pictures can be found on our blog.
Great report, thanks.
With regard to the staff's ability to respond to negative feedback: I think there simply isn't much of a culture of customer assertiveness in the UK. You can send coded signals with "we preferred x to y", but an outright "we didn't like it", unless there is an obvious and correctable fault, is so unusual that even the best places struggle to respond appropriately.
just because the produce comes from a top supplier doesn't ensure consistency or flavour. there's always going to be a duffer somewhere along the line.
i agree the restaurant didn't deal with it correctly. but, in equal measure, it is a slight contradiction to sight british reservation when you didn't raise the issue on initial tasting. it's a bit like drinking a full bottle of corked wine and then attempt to take it back to the off-license.
re: marcus james
marcus, absolutely agree with you that a top supplier doesn't ensure consistency though I think to compare it to a corked wine is incorrect. Robert Parker for example suggests the Mouton 1970 is ''one of the most frustratingly irregular wines I have ever encountered' which suggests variation without being 'bad' or corked. Also, a corked bottle of wine can be sent back to be replaced by a non corked wine but here, we presume all the lamb in the kitchen that day would be essentially the same. The lamb had variation (from the norm) without being 'off' but in a tasting menu size course, it's not such a big deal The feedback was for their purposes more than a complaint but it was only then that things turned comic. The Square was overall excellent and we didn't seek any kind of redress, we just wanted them to know. Our write up was merely how it played out.
critical - totally understand and it was a great to see such an informed write-up.
not to hijack this thread - but while i am here - love the heinz beck review. totally agree. very under rated and, due to a very soft opening without much fanfair, isn't receiving the plaudits it should.