I don’t like Mondays just as much as the Boomtown Rats. Nor does the restaurant industry. Everyone’s back to work, the markets are closed, and no one goes out to eat. Indeed, the best places are often shut at the beginning of the week. Not, however, The Square. I’d read praise for it as having “flawless” service, serving up “sophisticated” food, with Phillip Howard‘s restaurant being “the best of its type”. An excellent reputation demands high expectations. On the Monday I went, I experienced nothing to such acclaim. I have to ask: Where was our fantastic meal that everybody else is having?
Let’s start with the good stuff. The classical French menu reads well. To start we chose roast Orkney scallops with crushed butternut squash, chanterelles, chestnuts and white truffle (£5 supplement), the lasagne of Dorset crab with a cappuccino of shellfish and champagne foam, and scorched Roscoff onion with a persillade of Somerset snails and a savoury brioche roulade. There’s very little, if in fact anything, to complain about the food. You can read a bite-by-bite analysis of the food elsewhere. All I say here is that it was classically brilliant. Even the portions are generous – in fact, perhaps the most generous of any Michelin restaurant I’ve been to. But I can’t help thinking that I’d rather have a smaller plate, for the sake of my waistline and my bank account.
Mains are just as traditional and just as filling: rib of beef (for two) with a croustillant of oxtails, smoked tendons, stuffed shallots and red wine and, for it being in season, breast of grouse with turnip and celeriac, pancetta and blackberries (£10 supplement). The crispy potato roulade encasing confit leg meat was the best element on the plate. We shared a tooth-decaying milk chocolate bar with salted peanuts, praline and banana ice cream for dessert. Three courses for £80 may seem steep, but it’s the price you pay for Mayfair and two stars. Not to mention, The Ledbury offers exactly the same deal. However, don’t get me started on the supplements (grumble grumble). Anyway, the food. It was all beautifully presented, accurately executed, and well-seasoned. We all agreed that we enjoyed the meal, but… But that was it. I felt it was predictable and, dare I say, underwhelming. The words ‘bang’ and ‘buck’ come to mind.
The ninety-page wine list will send wine enthusiasts into anaphylactic shock. So will the prices at the higher end of things, although there is a remarkably decent selection under £50. We went by the glass, with unremarkable recommendations from the sommelier of Vouvray, Silex Noir, Francois Pinon, 2010 (£13.00) and Chateauneuf du Pape, Domaine La Roquete, Daniel Brunier, 2004 (£13.00). And they were unremarkable because the sommelier hadn’t checked what we had ordered. In fact, he – not to mention the other staff – barely looked us in the eye, barely even gave us the time of day.
Where The Ledbury, sister to The Square, succeeds is in its location: it’s too far away from the City to cater for business lunches. Correspondingly, the corporate, suited feel of The Square is its let down. It may have been a quiet Monday afternoon, but the four other occupied tables were counting beans. And not their own. This might help explain the colour of the room: brown. Service was a thing of silence, which might be how such clientele like it – with minimal social interaction. The Square proves, contrary to the Michelin ethos, that food should not be the only consideration in assessing a restaurant’s worth. Almost as important is the service and atmosphere. Without the balance of these three elements, a good restaurant – in my eyes – can never be a great one. The food can only be as sound as the environment it’s served in. The Square is certainly a good restaurant, but on that Monday afternoon in no way was it great.
£500 for three (with service)
Food; 8 Service; 4 Ambience; 5