Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Square

6-10 Bruton Street
London W1J 6PU

020 7495 7100

The Square is a much heralded restaurant. It is one of eight London restaurants to hold two Michelin stars and chef Philip Howard's background is Roux Restaurants, Harvey's (Marco Pierre White) and Bibendum. I'm having lunch with my friend Malcolm Gluck the wine critic who has recently brought out a splendidly outspoken all guns blazing attack on the crooks and cheats of the wine world: The Great Wine Swindle. He has recommended the £30 lunch menu as 'outstanding value'.

I leave it to Malcolm to order the wine and am not disappointed. He orders Altesse, Roussette de Savoie Gilles Berlioz 2002. It is one of the cheapest wines on the very long wine list at £25. Made from the Altesse or Roussette grape (exclusively when labelled Altesse) these Roussette de Savoie wine are supposed to taste of violet, herbs, honey and hazelnut. This one really does: fragrant, delicious, a bargain. High acidity means these wines can take a bit of age: this one is starting to go brown, you can taste the age, but still wonderful. The wine waiter tells us it is the last bottle in the restaurant. It is a privilege to drink it. Things have got off to a good start.

The £30 for two courses menu offers one meat and one fish starter, one meat and one fish main course. I go for the meat. Terrine followed by Venison. Before we start, though, there is a little amuse bouche in a glass. It is a chervil root veloute, with chicken gelee and bacon foam. It is a perfect little concoction of contrasting flavours and textures like a little layered roman road. The squishy gelee sits in the middle, you can see it through the glass, the foam above. The first course is a perfect little picture (above top); it is actually terrine on the left, a bit of pork rillette, some spring onions and gooey fruity chutney. Its of a very high standard but not for me as sensational as the little amuse bouche. The main course I find the least satisfying. The plate is cold and the food is the wrong side of warm; the little bits of venison are beautifully rare but not as succulent and juicy with crisp outside as what I tried not long ago at The Abingdon. The three different and cold sauces (gravy, creamy, fruity) and little muddle of vegetables I don't find what Michel Roux junior would call a 'perfect flavour combination'. Its just all trying a bit too hard and just misses it for me. We have a couple of glasses of Gevrey Chambertin 2005 which at £16 a glass isn't the bargain the Altesse was but compliments my Venison. We have the cheese for an additional £5 each. This really is a bargain: enormous variety and quality and you seem to be able to just keep going until you call a halt. After I have an espresso and again the freebie is one of the best things: little tiny slices of the most delicious nougat.
Its a personal thing but I can't give this restaurant a lot of points for atmosphere. I say to Malcolm I feel its like eating in a bank. The room is tall and rectangular, the lighting is bright. There are white table cloths with a rather strange grey under cloth overhanging the tables. Unsurprisingly at this price level it is full of suited men. There are two exceptions which stand out. Two men in tea shirts, one with cap on (chefs, says Malcolm), and a solitary female diner (from a Eurpoean guide we discover, eating in solitary splendour). They provide some visual light relief. Bits of the eating experience were unquestionably very very good but overall the cathedral to food in a bank atrium atmosphere, and some aspects of the Michelin performance picture on a plate trying too hard for arresting flavour combinations doesn't totally do it for me; but of course with high reputation comes high expectation which can be difficult to satisfy.

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