Early last year, the MARC restaurant group, owner of two Michelin starred Umu and Greenhouse restaurants, announced it was acquiring The Square from Nigel Platts-Martin leading to executive chef Phil Howard’s departure. Platts-Martin continues to own and run Chez Bruce and La Trompette, and Howard subsequently opened Elystan Street in Chelsea (which I reviewed last month). For the remainder of 2016, The Square trundled on without a head chef and it seemed like one of London’s most acclaimed restaurants was going to become yet another hideout for the nouveau riche hedge fund managers that prowl Mayfair.
the all new Square was revealed…and it looks exactly the same
Enter Yu Sugimoto. A Japanese chef who trained in France, he worked his way up to the positions of head chef at three starred Le Meurice in Paris and two starred Marc Meneau in Burgundy. He committed to lightening the menu and going easy on the butter. Private tastings of the new dishes began in the New Year and finally this Spring, the all new Square was revealed…and it looks exactly the same. The square (shaped) dining room is well lit and airy. There is marble and wood, though not to the point of gaudiness. As it is on street level, there is sufficient natural lighting and tall privacy shades to keep the prying eyes of passers by from peering in.
I turned up on a last minute reservation for lunch on a weekday. While fine dining establishments in London are rarely full in the daytime (with the exception of The Ledbury and Le Gavroche) I was surprised at how empty The Square was. Apart from a couple of businessmen I was the only one there, while the six or seven members of staff pranced around as if it were a busy day. I was half expecting Yes Minister’s Jim Hacker to barge in demanding they “get some diners”. Thankfully the maître d’ assured me that the restaurant was busier at dinner.
the chef deals with light, complex and subtle flavours
Perhaps because it was this empty, I was presented with a selection of canapes before I could find anything to nit-pick. A foie gras sorbet and basil cream in a crispy cone was delicate, although lacking the intense, heavy fats one expects of foie gras. The more savoury duck ham in a bowl of hay and smoked sausage were stand outs. The bread came next and for the first time in a while I was impressed, the camembert brioche being particularly outstanding. My first course was a slice of cured mackerel served with Japanese rice shaped in a cone then deep fried, topped with a large helping of oyster sabayon. The mackerel was chewy while not pungent, and the rice well-seasoned. This shows from the beginning that the chef deals with light, complex and subtle flavours. While I loved it, I’m not sure how popular this dish would be.
Not too long after, the main course arrived – which was a 55-day dry aged Berkshire pork shoulder served with apple puree, sausage, pied bleu mushrooms and jus. Pork and apple is a classic combination, and the jus was not too overwhelming allowing the buttery, nutty flavour of the pork to shine. I must add that this is not any regular pork shoulder, but the cut near the armpit which is meatier, fatter and more tender. It comes with the subliminal message: I may be Japanese but this is still a French restaurant!
I could have opted for a strawberry or cheese dessert, but here’s a secret. Ask nicely and a waiter will wheel out the entire cheese trolley and cut a generous portion for a token supplement. Beillevaire Fromagerie and Bernard Antony supply the cheeses here, and the aged Comte shines despite being left out for a while (it was brought over from The Greenhouse). I went for a pot of Darjeeling once I found out the coffee was from a Nespresso machine – what a piece of office equipment was doing in a restaurant like The Square is beyond me. The bill for a three course lunch, two glasses of wine and a bottle of water came to just under £80 which is very reasonable given the quality of the ingredients and the level of effort put in by the kitchen.
The problem with set lunches is they often are not representative of a restaurant’s true potential – Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road is a culprit. At The Square however, I was extremely satisfied with my meal and I left knowing that this is not just an expensive bistro. With its unique Japanese-French offering, I hope Chef Sugimoto’s new direction will put the restaurant back on London’s culinary map.
6-10 Bruton Street
by J Khou