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/ .