7 December 2011
I am meeting Bill Hughes, the Managing Director of Legal and General Property, at The Square in Bruton Street-the beating heart of Hedgefundshire. This is the land of Juicy Couture, Jack Barclay’s Bentley dealership and Stella McCartney.
Best for: Serious clients
Worst for: Not a lot
Nearest tube: Green Park/Bond Street
Reviewed by: Bruce Dear, partner, Eversheds
But, even here, among the mega-elaborate Manolo Blahnik stilettos and the Hermes ties, The Square manages to be all about substance, not celebrity. Its interior is understated simplicity: polished parquet and muted yellows, purples and blues.
It has two Michelin Stars and a star chef proprietor, Philip Howard. He trained with Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s-a hard, but brilliant school. Unusually for a “Name Chef”, he is not to be found spitting swear words at hapless, tearful contestants on quasi reality TV shows; nor (as one celebrity chef did recently) wearing a rabbit skin bikini at a WI meeting (I know). No, he actually keeps to his kitchen and COOKS.
This unconventional strategy means that you don’t know what he looks like, but it also means that The Square is graced with consistent, elegant and seasonal cooking. We start with a delightful amuse bouche that befits the brief and very late summer going on outside-cucumber veloute and a crisp, flavoursome fish ball. We ask the sommelier to advise us. The Square has a beguiling wine list, with a particular emphasis on Burgundy. He recommends a wine just released to them by Caroline Morey, owner of a vineyard next to the Puligny Montrachet estate-St Aubin “Les Ebaupins” 2008.
We are told that it will have a wonderful minerality with lingering citrus notes. It’s easy to be sceptical about elaborate wine descriptions, but this one does exactly what the sommelier says it will-exquisite. He explains why the wine is so marvellous. Burgundy sits on a deep layer of rich soil and rock made up of millions of ancient sea shells and marine life. If the summer is hot enough, the vines become (beneficially) stressed and send new roots into this limey sea shell soil. It’s beautiful, but mildly bizarre; in one sense this wine is essence of Trilobite! Some of the vines are 80 years old with 18 metre deep roots; they are truly amazing vinous machines.
I can’t resist The Square’s signature dish-and start with a lasagne of Dorset and Alaskan (for some reason I think of Sarah Palin) Crab with a Cappuccino of Shell Fish and Champagne Foam. It is delightful, delicate and harmonious-though Bill is right, the Alaskan could have met its distant Dorset cousin under better circumstances. Still, I can’t help thinking that the crabs’ loss is my gain. A gorgeous dish.
Bill starts with the salad of Beetroot and Baked Celeriac with Goat’s Curd, Walnuts, Scorched Onions and Ice Wine Vinegar. I am not a fan of anything to do with goats; I am always reminded of The Omen and of my eccentric friend Andrew Robertson who used to wrestle his goat to keep fit (we are not in touch anymore). But Bill pronounces it “delicious”, with deep flavours and a refreshing citrus tone.
Bill’s main is Roasted Cod with lightly curried cauliflower puree and a vinaigrette of golden raisins, capers and apples. This dish is beautifully presented, two yin and yang swirls of the puree frame the cod and Bill is impressed with the superb balance and mix of flavours. This dish shows The Square at its best, combining unusual and adventurous ingredients (even seemingly too many of them) to create something unexpectedly harmonious and balanced. It’s the sort of high wire cooking that impresses the Michelin inspectors.
My main course was fillets of John Dory with pumpkin and chestnut ravioli, Beurre Noisette, Chanterelles and pickled walnuts. Now here the high wire sagged a little. It’s not that it wasn’t good-of course it was, perfectly sourced ingredients, very well cooked. It’s just that it was, well, a bit bland. Sometimes my children get out all their best colouring pens and try to use them all together to create the most beautiful colour ever seen and they make:brown.This was a little bit like that, but still infinitely better than the food to be had in most restaurants.
We finished with coffees and delicious homemade nougat. The sommelier offered us a digestif, but then said that he wouldn’t play “the Devil’s Game” and left us with our coffee and then mint tea. Hardens makes The Square No.1 for fine business dining in London, but they also say that it is full of “identikit men in suits”. Bill and I have similar glasses and curly hair, but neither of us was wearing a suit-identikit or otherwise.
Bruce Dear, real estate partner, Eversheds