Saturday, 27 October 2012

On Complicated Cooking, & Dinner at The Square


Philip Howard, now in his 21st year at The Square, has written a cookbook and it is not to be trifled with. I was invited to dinner at the two Michelin starred restaurant, recently named 7th in the National Restaurant Awards, for the launch of this weighty little beast. I appreciate and acknowledge that I am a lucky cow. 


We were seated in the private dining room and the evening kicked off with some seaweed crisps, like huge black prawn crackers with a taramasalata-like sauce to scoop up. Mini cornetto-shaped cones filled with a foie gras mousse amused my bouche, and then we got stuck into the tasting menu proper. 


One of the main highlights for me came early on. A slow cooked quail's egg bobbed about in an 'Autumn minestrone', the broth made from Montgomery cheddar. It managed to be light yet cheesy and rich, taking on just the flavour of the cheese rather than the texture. The egg popped in the mouth like a little balloon - is there much better than slow cooked eggs? I don't think so. 

The rest of the menu was a Michelin man's tick box of dreams. A lobe of foie gras was seared at a high heat befitting it, glazed and bronzed and served with a crab apple galette. I couldn't tell you what a crab apple tastes like, but in this instance its fruity tartness played off well against the rich liver. Langoustine tails sat on an emulsified bed of potato and truffle; the latter luxury ingredient so loved at this time of year made another appearance with a perfectly cooked slab of turbot, made unusual and disarming but delightful with a bay milk puree.


I am sorry to say that grouse isn't to my taste. I keep trying it in the hope that I will change my mind - after all, I started liking bananas on the day of my last birthday - which is why I didn't ask them to swap it out of my menu. Still, I can appreciate the technical skill that had gone into this dish. Cooked to an even pink throughout, the meat was butter-soft, the turnip and celeriac tower working in those Autumnal flavours and boosted by the blackberries. (Urgh.)

The cheese course was cleverly presented as a wedge of Barkham Blue stuffed into what looked like a pain au chocolat. A cheesecake with currants was such a sharp slice I could have sworn the edge of it could poke my eye out, and just when I thought I was fit to burst, a tall plum souffle, edges well clear of its ramekin was set before me, a scoop of almond ice cream slid inside it table-side. 

There's no doubting the immense skill of Howard and his kitchen. He came to have a chat with us afterwards and told us that this cookbook was 10 years in the making, and having had a flick through I can see how that's possible. 



I've been moaning recently that all we get these days are XYZ Made Easy, or whoever's meals in 15 minutes, or some bastardisation of a cuisine to make it simple and quick. None of us have much free time (or don't want to spend it cooking, apparently) but unless you want Heston and his science, books and TV shows these days don't cater for us food nerds who like learning about in-depth techniques and the dishes, made up of many components, that go with it. Which is why I was pretty pleased when I opened Howard's Part 1: Savoury. He makes no bones about it; a lot of it would be hard to do in a domestic kitchen, or one with basic equipment. But thumbing through cook books, ooh'ing and aah'ing over the incredible effort that goes in these dishes is pleasing to me, especially if I've eaten one (above, smoked mackerel with prawns, sea water jellies, cucumber and caviar). I find it all very inspirational and I might even get round to making one of the dishes, so hats off to Mr Howard and the gargantuan effort it must've been to write it all down. 

The cookbook is on Amazon if you which to purchase.

Philip Howard has also done podcasts you can listen to here, and a film - link here.

You can see all my photos from the night if you wish, here

The Square

6 - 10 Bruton Street
London W1J 6PU 


Tel: 0207 495 7100


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8 comments:

www.fashionablefoods.net said...

Thanks for sharing...:)

samphire andsalsify said...

"amused my bouche" hilarious, why didn't I think of that?!

Foodycat said...

I am SO pleased you said that about the book! That was how Phil Howard came across on Great British Menu this year - a proper cook with respect for ingredients and flavours and techniques, not a mad scientist or someone interested in shortcuts.

Tang said...

You are so Chinese! I cannot stand grouse either!

I agree with you, even I may not be able to cook the dishes from the book at home, it is still interesting to read about the techniques. I am looking forward to reading it!

Ben said...

You didn't sound too enthused by the food. Did you make an effort not to be as it was (presumably) a freebie? You drank some nice wines - did they match/complement the food? I'm not being snarky - I've seen you write up the Ledbury in glowing terms, and I love your blog. I just wondered why you seem a bit lukewarm on this dinner? Was it "michelin" by numbers?

Lizzie Mabbott said...

Fashionable foods - no worries!

Samphire & Salsify - :)

Foodycat - I didn't see any of the Great British Menu, I wish I had now. But yes, Howard does definitely come across like that.

Tang - SO CHINESE! EuWen doesn't like it either. The book definitely gives you a good appreciation of technical skill.

Ben - yes, it was a freebie. Thanks for your kind words about the blog! I wouldn't downplay the food just because it was free, if I like it I'll say so. I was trying to be a bit more pithy, and while I enjoyed the food a lot, I didn't think it was mind-blowing innovation but good solid classical cooking.

As for the wines, I am afraid I'm not much of a wine person. If it's wet and boozy I'll drink it so I don't really write about matching wines as I don't feel particularly qualified!

Shu Han said...

OK so my latest blog post was almost going to be titled the same (the front bit), but er unfortunately is one of those xyz recipes you were moaning about..I was hungry and tired... :( But I get what you mean, I want to get a book teaching me techniques that I can proper food-nerd and boast about; that sounds like a book worth checking out.

Anyway, wow you lucky cow indeed. that slow cooked egg!!

Shu Han said...

OK so my latest blog post was almost going to be titled the same (the front bit), but er unfortunately is one of those xyz recipes you were moaning about..I was hungry and tired... :( But I get what you mean, I want to get a book teaching me techniques that I can proper food-nerd and boast about; that sounds like a book worth checking out.

Anyway, wow you lucky cow indeed. that slow cooked egg!!