Marlon Abela's new vision for the restaurant pulls off a tricky feat in fine dining – it's delicate, delicious, but not too fussy
There’s a fine line in fine dining, between fancy and fussy, and it’s a tricky one to tread. There are plenty of places to eat delicious food at low prices, but if you’re going to splash out then not only does the food have to be truly excellent, but the service and the ambience, too. Staff need to be attentive, but not so much that you don’t feel you can become embroiled in deep conversation with your dinner partner. You want to be surprised by the attention to detail, but not to have it announced with fanfare. You want to eat slowly, savouring every bite, without feeling like you’ve been stuffed with rich food.
The Square on Bruton Street navigates that line beautifully, and it’s testament to the vision of restaurateur Marlon Abela, and executive chef Clément Leroy, that it seems effortless. In buying The Square from Phillip Howard, who had held two Michelin stars at the restaurant for almost 20 years, Abela had a challenge to maintain the restaurant’s standard while making his own mark. His philosophy is that the future of haute cuisine is health-conscious dining, with reduced fat and sugar. The antithesis of French food, you’d think. Fortunately, our minds were soon set at rest.
Roasted cumbrian beef sirloin
Seared Orkney scallops
Scottish langoustine with hibiscus and cauliflower
Pumpkin crème brûlée
Smoked Lincolnshire eel caviar
We started with a visually striking plate of flamed Cornish mackerel, served on a thin layer of jelly made with pink radish, then Orkney scallops with coffee (a frankly inspired combination) and marsala. Leroy had made ravioli with the first of the season’s morel mushrooms, not, as he explained, in a classic Italian style, but the kind he ate as a child growing up in the Rhone Valley. This was followed by crisp red mullet with a black pepper sauce and skin so seared it had almost crisped-up like popcorn, and to follow that a beautiful piece of four weeks’ aged Herdwick lamb.
If the fat and the sugar content are reduced, you wouldn’t notice it. Especially when it comes to desserts; there’s salt crusted pineapple drizzled with a comb caramel and a side dish of coconut meringue and ginger sorbet; a chocolate grand cru that’s dense, rich and intense; and the most interesting and delicious is St John’s Wood honey, grapefruit andsweet potato. By turn, every course on the tasting menu proved to be flavourful, seasonal, and with just enough difference to surprise and delight.
The Square walks the line – it delivers service that’s just attentive enough to feel special but that’s not so formal you feel like you have to be on your best behaviour, and food with flavour and depth that’s not too hefty or unhealthy. It’s a fine place, indeed.