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The Square [London]

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Mayfair is one of London's ‘upper class' areas, housing hedge funds, jewellers, fashion brands, grand hotels, and some of the city's finest restaurants, including a standout The Square. Having moved from St James to Mayfair, it has become one of the city's five best restaurants, and still continues to evolve even with Phil Howard as head chef for the past 19 years.
Upon entering The Square, you notice the bustling atmosphere at once. There is something special that reigns in this place, whether you come for a Monday lunch or a Saturday dinner. The room is packed 24/7, which is not that common even in a town like this. It seems that one of London's best restaurants is also one of its most successful. Yet, unusually for a popular restaurant, the place isn't that good looking. Rather, it feels cold and dull, so there must be other things that attract the punters. Indeed, most people come to eat and drink exceptionally well. And you can certainly do that better here than in most other British places. The wine list for instance is unique. It is one of the city's best, full of world greats: Selosse, Coche Dury, DRC, Sine Qua Non, Chave, all feature on it with large selections. But, since this list is constantly evolving and moving around, it's worth to just pop in and see what would match your food best.
Chef Howard started cooking professionally only after finishing his university degree, which might give him a different approach to food than some of his colleagues. Modestly wanting to serve comforting food, Howard has created some extraordinary dishes, which will stay in your memory forever.
Arguably his most famous creation is a starter of langoustines with gnocchi, truffles and wild mushrooms. The langoustines sit on the gnocchi, surrounded by the wild mushroom purée and butter emulsion. It is simple, comforting, but oh so very good. The main reason for its success is the product quality, as the langoustines are bought in alive, an essential feature with such a delicate crustacean. On the first bite, you feel the crunchy, juicy flesh bursting in your mouth and simultaneously, the intensely earthy mushroom purée and fluffy gnocchi complement this sensation. Bravo! As this is a truly remarkable dish.
Another unbelievably good dish are the stuffed chicken wings, with white truffles, macaroni and Vacherin. Again, the flavours are comforting, rich and speak for themselves with gusto. This superb dish puts the truffle at the centre stage, supported by the chorus of other elements in the background. Howard really lets the product speak for itself, and does not show off his technical skills or creative genius. That is one of his greatest strengths.
Unsurprisingly, the desserts here are also amongst the better ones in town. The classic cheesecake and phenomenal soufflés are always featured on the tasting menu in various combinations. Both are a fine way to end a meal, and demonstrate once more how comforting flavours are turned into something delicious, yet subtle.
In a way that is what makes his food so special. It is subtle, in some ways at least, tasty and simple. There are no components on the plates that are superfluous here, and everything is of the highest order in terms of product quality. With Ben Crofton having taken over the service brigade, things should be quite good here!

For pictures look on http://www.qliweb.com/ .

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  1. I don't understand why comments keep disappearing off this thread.

    As to the review, thank you for it. It mentioned some interesting dishes and led me to the Square website where I was pleased to note that the supplement ALC dishes including the gnocchi actually made it onto the tasting menu which doesn't always happen.
    I had always understood from friends who have been that the 'signature' dish was the Lasagne of Dorset Crab with a Cappuccino of Shellfish and Champagne Foam.

    I've just never really fancied the Square although you do hear great things about Philip Howard. MW, The Ledbury, Pied a Terre, even Maze with Atherton always just appealed more.

    The only thing I don't understand about the review is that it seems to be generic and based more upon a general impression of the restaurant than upon one visit. Has the original poster visited on a Monday lunchtime and a Saturday evening to compare the atmospheres?

    I don't really understand lines like "It seems that one of London's best restaurants is also one of its most successful."

    You don't want all reviews to be of the same style but with some exceptions I always find the most interesting ones on Chowhound are at least loosely based around an actual visit to the restaurant such as this one about the Square
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/728444

    3 Replies
    1. re: ManInTransit

      The writer, Felix Hirsch, visited The Square at least 20 times in the past three years so the review is not based on a single visit. With the line "It seems that one of London's best restaurants is also one of its most successful." he means the fact that The Square is amongst the best restaurants in London but always fully crowded, no matter what day you come. There aren't mny restaurants with a trackrecord like The Square...

      What is the thing you don't like about the square?

      1. re: qli

        That's fair enough and makes it more understandable why it reads like a generic review rather than a specific trip report.

        I don't dislike the Square as I've never been. I just almost feel that out of all the two stars in London the Square is the one that pays most homage to classical French cuisine and with the ease of the Eurostar nowadays I'd rather jump on a train to Paris and try the 100EUR menu at Guy Savoy.

        I really should give it a go but everytime I am booking a special meal that you know is going to set you back a couple of hundred pounds I always just find myself drawn elsewhere. Keen to hear other reports though as the ones I get from friends are generally positive but often caveated by 'not as good as Marcus Wareing/Ramsay/Waterside'.

        1. re: ManInTransit

          Although I am a big fan of The Ledbury (and have dinner every time I'm in London), between The Ledbury and The Square, I have to say my preference is for The Square. There's a subtly and clarity to the preparation that appeals to me. In my experience, for the same price, I don't think you can get the equivalent in Paris.