Phil Howard is one of Britains most respected chefs and he has been at the helm of The Square which he owns for 21 years. With Phil and his head chef, Rob Weston, leading the team at The Square, they have built up an excellent reputation and are continuing to delight their customers with their seasonal fine dining menu.
The fact that he is still very much hands on in the kitchen, maintaining the high standards, must play a large part in the team being awarded 2 Michelin Stars and holding them for 15 years. At the recent National Restaurant Awards, Phil won the Chef’s Chef of The Year title.
For the launch of his new book, The Square: The Cookbook, Volume 1: Savoury, a group of us were invited to enjoy their tasting menu and to meet Phil.
My first visit to The Square was a while ago when they were still at Kings Street in St James. It was one of the trendy new contempary restaurants in London then and blazing the trail of modern British cooking and that meal was truly memorable. I have not eaten at The Square in the last few years so I was very much looking forward to this evening.
Phil Howard’s aim at The Square is to use seasonal ingredients and delivering dishes that are both “delicious and nourishing to the soul” as he says in his new cookbook. The mantra of “seeing the dish as what it is and not how it came to be” defines the style of food that they serve here.
Comfortably ensconced in their private dining room, we started this epic meal with several amuse bouches(?) starting with a cone of foie gras mousse then a pumpkin and cepes arancini and then the most delightfully light squid ink rice cracker dipped in taramasalata. This was the beginning of our journey into the amazing flavours and textures, as done by The Square.
Continuing with an Autumn Minestrone with a Slow Cooked Quails Egg, Montgomery Stock, Tarte Fine of Savoury Onions and Cepes. The soup was lightly flavoured by the cheese, not overwhelming, lovely soft quails egg but the accompanying Tarte Fine was divine.
Next, the Rillette of Smoked Cornish Mackerel with a Vinaigrette of Poole Prawns, Oysters, Sea Water Jellies, Cucumber and Caviar. A combination of several balanced components of creamy rillettes, fresh prawns, oysters contrasted with the textures of the sea water jellies and cucumber. Light on the pallete and quite refreshing.
The next dish I absolutely loved: Roast Foie Gras with Crab Apple Glaze and Toasted Hazelnuts. The rich sensual flavour of the foie gras cut through with the tanginess of the caramelised quince and the crab apple tart. The crunchy honeycomb topping gave yet another contrasting texture. A sip of the Castelneau de Suduiraut Sauternes served with this dish just rounded it off perfectly.
Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle. Decadence on a plate, firm pieces of langoustine with a umami rich mouthful of parmesan gnocchi, all heightened by the aroma of the truffle. This dish was matched with a Bourgogne Chardonnay 2010.
Onwards with another finely executed dish: perfectly cooked Fillet of Turbot with Autumn Truffle and Walnut Pesto and a Smoked Celeriac and Bay Milk Purée, served on a bed of Hispi cabbage. Loved the crunch of the nuts with every mouthful of turbot and the puree added another layer of flavour, totally awe inspiring. They selected a Chorey-Les-Beaune 2008 to go with the Turbot, fruity and light.
The Breast of Grouse with Turnip and Celeriac, Pearl Barley, Pancetta and Blackberries was not to everyone’s taste. I love the gamey flavour of grouse and here it was cooked in 2 different ways, a roasted breast, served pink and a little croustillant filled with the leg meat which I loved, and the jus that was on the plate was rich and immensely flavourful.
The wine paired with this was a rich and spicy Chateuneuf du Pape, Domane La Roquete 2004.
Two blue cheeses followed: Perl Las and Barkham Blue Cheese with Quince and Walnuts, served with a crabapple pastry. The blue cheese defeated me as I find the flavours overwhelming, yes, even after the grouse.
The first of 2 sensational puddings was then presented : a Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Currants, the name of the dish does not do it justice. It is actually a cheesecake made with Brillat-Savarin topped with a redcurrant glaze, a blackcurrant ripple ice cream and a swiss roll topped with a dome of blackcurrant jelly. Loved the lightness of the cheesecake and the acidic flavours of the currants was a great palate cleanser after the last course.
To top off the tasting menu, we had a Plum Soufflé with Almond Ice Cream. Wonderfully light souffle with some plum conserve on the bottom and nutty toasted almond ice cream.
We can’t leave this meal without mentioning the petite fours, an array of highly flavoured jellied fruits that will put a smile on anyone’s face and a plate of salted caramel honeycomb truffles. A total delight.
Did the Square deliver delicious food and nourishing to the soul? Absolutely, in spades.
10 Bruton Street,
London W1J 6PU
Review of Phil Howard’s new Cookbook
This cookbook is really massive and has taken Phil about 10 years to write, he tells us. He has written it to be a tangible documentation of his 21 years of service.
The book is a short biography of his culinary career. We follow him through the trials and tribulations at various kitchens that shaped him into the chef he is today. His early career was shaped by forays working for the Roux brothers, then at MPW’s Harveys and then Bibendum.
The recipes might seem a bit too cheffy at first but Phil has written them with full instructions to allow a reader to recreate these dishes at home. You might not have all the equipment necessary to make all these dishes but you can definitely use the ideas as inspirations of creating facsimiles of the dishes at home.
Phil was keen to emphasies that it is not a dumbed down version of his recipes and something that enthusiastic cooks can learn from.
In the beginning of the book , there is a basics section which covers making stocks which is a French technique that is basis of so many of the dishes in the book.
Every recipe has 4 sections, an overview, what to focus on, the components and most importantly the timings of each part. This really helps you envisage what is needed to recreate each dish. The photography is absolutely stunning and I think it is a great book to have to refer to and I am already inspired by some of the dishes and I know it will push me to try out some of the more complicated dishes that I have avoided cooking before.
You can buy The Square: The Cookbook, Volume 1: Savoury from Amazon at 36% off.
In conjunction with the launch of the cookbook, they have created some accompanying media where you can watch and listen to Phil Howard on Kitchen Foundation. Catch the podcast here and watch the videos here.
Video on Tools:
Video on Pasta Part 1
The Square: The Cookbook, Volume 1: Savoury is available from Amazon.
SlowFood Kitchen was a guest of The Square