The Square (Phil Howard)

The Square, Mayfair
14th June 2014
★★★


 

I’ve waited a while to write this review: just like we waited a while to receive our mains. A long while: not two weeks but something happened in The Square’s kitchen that evening.

I’ve postponed in order to fully digest. That evening: a special occasion for all involved, was one of expectancy. England’s first World Cup game was upon us and the joint birthday celebration’s of my beautiful girlfriend and her elegant Mother, a couple of suites in Claridge’s and The Square restaurant lay ahead. To say I was looking forward to the day would be an underestimation of cosmic magnitude.

Claridge’s was preposterously absurd. The birthday swing was musical. But England went one-nil down within but forty minutes of us entering Phil Howard’s reputable restaurant. And with that; all crumbled… with no custard.

I’ll not lie to you: I’m a footballing lad; a Fulham fan to be precise. My team were relegated this season and for me that was awful. But the Brazil World Cup lay ahead, and Fulham’s former foreman, Roy Hodgson, was to lead our English boys out in a competition I’d been waiting for. I had been waiting for four long years. Our first game was against Italy and, discernibly, I was looking forward to the big match; but when I heard of my girlfriends’ particularly generous fathers’ plans: to take us to London’s most impressive hotel and then to a restaurant of extraordinary repute; football, suddenly and quite implausibly, became second fiddle.

As we walked into the contemporary dining room; with it’s spaciously positioned tables and clean design, we anticipated a dinner of remarkable standard. Something unprecedented and exciting was supposed, our intuition suspected: somewhat obscure and, like the colourful, newfangled plates laid at the table; something new-age and groundbreaking, nay… trailblazing. That premonition, as the evening pressed on, slowly dispelled.

The impeccable waiting staff produced thick, bible-like wine menus alongside rather petite dinner folders. Foreseeing a lengthy decision making process ahead the girlfriends’ father (let’s call him Paul from now on; as that would be his name) and I accepted a glass of the girls’ Champagne. As the aforementioned lengthy bible diagnoses took place, the amouse-bouche arrived.

Cornetto’s of Foie Gras: They were fantastic – some around might have been fidgety vis-à-vis the process of especially fattening a liver – and I was only too chirpy to dispose of theirs. Balls of blue cheese: hardly Michelin star, yet skilful nonetheless. And then Squid Ink Crackers…

If I may… a footnote to this: the menu seemed predominately sea-side-y. I do not eat fish… not by choice. I was, not by an elongated porous-rock, expecting such a limited quantity of ‘proper’ dishes on the menu. ‘Is this a fish restaurant?’. ‘Are we by the sea?’. ‘Is this… a fish restaurant?’

No mention whatsoever had been made of ‘posh poisson’. We were not expecting this: at least seventy percent of the menu was once swimming and we all began frantically searching for meat.

Moving on then… the amuse-bouche. The Foie Gras Cornetto’s were fantastic, the cheese balls on par, the Squid Crackers you’d take or leave. It was fine. Let us continue.

My (gun-held-to-head, choose this or… or choose fish) nominated starter was the… was the… uuurgh…

This is where things become soundly ticklish as a blogger, or a critic, or… whatever you would like to call me.

Should I lie and tell you what I didn’t have?

Just supposing…that I had forgotten what I had for my starter. I have.

Now…. does that damn myself, or does it further deface the eatery. Both perhaps. I should remember what I ate, and yet that I cannot says it all methinks. Especially as I have just spent the elite chunk of twenty minutes gawking at the menu online and still cannot recall it. I surely cannot have been all too spellbound by the opening course.

The wine arrived. I had asked the sommelier his opinion – requesting that the choice match my order and that he keep the price moderate (Paul was paying: I can’t as I’m an out-of-work actor and would probably struggle to afford the starter that I can’t remember having). The bottle decided upon was brilliant. The choice of wine here is expansive. There are, like most top restaurants, some eye-wateringly expensive vintages, yet the range of enjoyable bottles at decent prices is vast.

And… I’ve just remembered…my starter: it was off the special’s list. I still cannot remember exactly what it was though. Sorry – I apologise to both you and to Phil Howard.

After my… first course… came another unsolicited nibble: Cucumber Jelly with Crayfish. On paper this sounds rather dreary, does it not, and yet ‘twas interesting: not unimpressive but then hardly mesmerizing.

Now, dear reader, I am sure you will be relieved to hear that the rascal of a blogger whose diagnosis of The Square you find yourself reading… (‘Yes, please go on’ I hear you excitingly think to yourself)… does remember what he had for his main course. You have no doubt been waiting with intense anticipation for this moment! As did I: as did we all in The Square that evening.

I am a writer not deprived of hyperbole: I occasionally, I shall admit only this once, embellish. But trust my word, please, when I express the following with absolute sincerity: we waited four and a quarter minutes past three and a half decades between cucumber and main. Something happened in that kitchen. After ten minutes without food, handily facing the kitchen doors, I began watching. Nothing by way of savoury dishes left that kitchen for a good forty minutes.

This would not affect you, beloved reader, as it was – I am sure – a one off. However, for us four sat there, myself highly curious as to the England teams situation, and my fellow diners hungry, it was acutely conspicuous. Whether a glass was broken on Phil Howards hefty pass, or a rat scurried past the mise-en-place or, indeed and just perhaps, the entire brigade began fist-fighting when Italy scored; I do not know. But something happened. It won’t happen when you go there, I am sure – but it happened when we were there and I must report.

Moving forward… Four and three quarter minutes and three and a half decades later… the mains arrive.

Mine: The Pigs Head. Slow Roast Berkshire Pig’s Head with Creamed Potato, Spring Cabbage, Turnips, Apple, Bacon and “1000” Flower Honey. It was, I am reluctant to admit, absolutely sensational.

They all chose the Lamb. My girlfriend had initially decided upon the pig too, but was sidetracked due to the waiter’s warning: ‘There is a thick layer of fat”, he said, pointing to his neck. Rubbish!!! It was surely the cheek and the fat is only a bonus.

The Lamb shot none in the neck with the dart of titillation when it finally arrived. My pig though, overawed me. It was what I had been hoping the entire meal would convey. Genius. No simile for it’s tenderness could give it justice. Like, admittedly, everything else that evening, the presentation was stunning. This time, however, the seasoning was infallible and the design and execution of the dish terrific. It was a main course befitting any double-Michelin starred table on this pint-sized island. Incidentally, that is exactly how many stars The Square holds.

I finished the girlfriends Lamb, aghast with dismay that my Pig was no more, and it simply wasn’t as good. Tasteless, tough and tragic would be both alliterative and untrue. But it was on no account exceptional to the level of my hog.

And so, as best as I could with my three years of acting training, I hid the admiration for my porker from my fellow diners… I didn’t want to gloat now.

“I’m better than you,

na-na na-na boo-boo,

stick it in your head doo-doo”

would be the tactless playground rhyme that would have been far from appropriate. I decided against singing it and we moved onto dessert.

The mignardises… (the course before the dessert), saw a Panna Cotta with Strawberry Jelly and Elderflower foam. Served in a shot glass it served a purpose. My determined hope was that this was the dawning of a magnificent finale. It was just that. To say breathtaking would be unrealistic, yet it was refined and detailed enough to convey atypical levels of technique. You would struggle to make this at home.

The desserts arrived. In my case… being a cheese-loving-lad… my cheeseboard arrived. Trolley – my cheese trolley. The pick of surely no less than fifteen or twenty cheeses awaited me. I chose – the trolley was wheeled away – and ten minutes later… pudding arrived!!! (Yay!).

The dessert chefs at The Square are remarkably talented. The adults on the table (I’m twenty-seven and the girlfriend twenty-three now; but I shan’t use the word ‘elders’!) ordered the Peanut and Chocolate Bar. Although they felt them rich they were demolished with pleasure. The girlfriend was similarly delighted with her choice and yet, seemingly, only too happy to dive into my lavish cheese plate.

Our starters weren’t great: I thus far cannot even remember mine . There was a hell of a wait for our mains. The service, however, must be reported as nothing but superb. The wine was wonderful. It was, without a doubt, still a sterling evening. But we went to Phil Howard’s The Square, understandably, with high expectations; these were not altogether met.

For one: the menu consisted mainly of seafood, and for another: nothing was ‘trailblazing’ as we had hopefully predicted.

This is my longest review to date; and fittingly so.

England lost.

Claridge’s was beyond belief. Absolutely breathtaking!

The Square didn’t quite live up…

It was an evening justifying a lengthy evaluation.


 

The cost: only Paul knows. Thank you, Sir.
And Happy Birthday ladies!!

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