To celebrate the launch of The Square Cookbook by Philip Howard, I, along with a group of bloggers, was invited for dinner at The Square, a restaurant I’ve been meaning to visit for ages but never managed to make it there to try one of their set lunches. We dined in their private dining room that night and little did I realise that we’d get to experience their full tasting menu – and what a treat it was! There were wines accompanying each course as well and as I’m totally useless with alcohol, I won’t describe them here.
To whet our appetites, a few little bites were brought out before the tasting menu started proper. A cone of foie gras mousse was luxuriously smooth and rich. A bite of pumpkin and cepe arancini was creamy and heck, it’s deep fried – can’t go wrong with that. Crunchy squid ink rice crackers stood in a base of delicious taramasalata dip.
Autumn Minestrone with a Slow Cooked Quail Egg, Montgomery Stock, Tarte Fine of Savoury Onions and Cepes
This was incredible,with its melting egg at the bottom of the rich, cheesy infused soup. The tarte fine on the side was just utterly delicious and I could easily have tucked away a whole trayful of it.
Rillette of Smoked Cornish Mackerel with a Vinaigrette of Poole Prawns, Oysters, Sea Water Jellies, Cucumber and Caviar
This may have been my favourite course – the creamy rillettes were hidden under a fresh mixture of prawns and chopped oysters, pearls of sea water jelly and caviar and cubes of cucumber for crunch. It was a great combination.
Roast Foie Gras with Crab Apple Glaze and Toasted Hazelnuts
This was served with a tarte fine of apple, a slice of caramelised quince and a schmear of quince paste. The fruits provided a great sweet-tart balance to the unctuous foie. There didn’t seem to be any toasted hazelnuts though…the sprinkles on top were crushed honeycomb.
Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle
This was an incredible piece of perfectly juicy shellfish that was also served with a field mushroom puree.
Fillet of Turbot with Autumn Truffle and Walnut Pesto and a Smoked Celeriac and Bay Milk Purée
The use of nuts was inspired with this flaky moist Turbot sitting on a bed of Hispi cabbage. The puree was very moreish – I really should try using more bay in my cooking.
Breast of Grouse with Turnip and Celeriac, Pearl Barley, Pancetta and Blackberries
I’m not entirely sure I’m the biggest fan of this hyper-gamey bird but it was obviousl this was cooked with care. The tubular structure on the left was what I was most fond of – it was pastry filled with shredded leg meat.
Perl Las and Barkham Blue Cheese with Quince and Walnuts
This combination of two blue cheeses did me in. I’m not a blue cheese fan and to encounter it both in a pastry and scattered through salad leaves was just too intense for me. The little pastry in which the slice of perl las was sandwiched was delicious though with its crabapple filling.
Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Currants
The desserts were equally impressive. I never would have thought of making cheesecake with Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream brie) but it did end up tasting like a regular, though excellent, cheesecake. Currants were everywhere on the plate: a redcurrent glaze on the cheesecake, a blackcurrant ripple ice cream and a raspberry Swiss roll topped with a blackcurrant jelly.
Plum Soufflé with Almond Ice Cream
This was a beautiful end to the meal. What was unexpected was the plum conserve at the base of the souffle but it wasn’t any less delicious for it. And the ice cream was amazing with its flavour of toasted almonds.
So it turned out that the petit fours were the final end! This collection of jellied fruits was delicious with my favourite being the orange slice of candied grapefruit peel. In addition, there were some salted caramel honeycomb truffles that we struggled to fit into our already swollen bellies. If this meal was anything to go by, their set lunch must also be something quite special.
And the book? Well, Howard himself came out to talk us through it and explained that this was a 10 year labour of love and we ended up comparing his cookbook (a seriously hefty tome where each dish requires a lot of time and effort) versus the current trend for super quick and easy recipes. Well, I reckon it would be nice to push myself a little further in the kitchen and see if I could work through one of the recipes. Personally, I’d have to adapt some things for my tiny kitchen: for example, I won’t be smoking my own mackerel to make the rillettes (yup, the recipe for that dish is included) but would rather substitute a high quality already-smoked fish.
The book out now is only Volume 1: Savoury while Volume 2: Sweet is due out next year. Of course, it can be ordered through their website or any good bookshop. In addition, Howard recently recorded a Kitchen Foundation video mini-series and two podcasts. They describe the foundations of a successful kitchen and I view them as bonus material with the cookbook.
Funny story. I was carrying the book back home on the tube that evening when, to my surprise, the man sitting across from me became very excited by the sight of it. It turned out he was a former cook himself and it goes to show the esteem to which Phil Howard is held.
Thank you very much to Philip Howard and Alix at ME:MO Interactive for the invitation.
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