The illustrious transition from the colourful hues of Fall to Winter's poignant chill is without doubt, my favourite time of the year. Thus, invited to indulge in the Square Kitchen's Taster Menu - which comprises seven seasonally inspired courses of Modern European fare - seemed the perfect prelude to the coming months and the abundance of warming flavours and comforting combinations that would be ultimately brought to the forefront to alleviate the impact of those dark nights and frosty mornings we are all increasingly accustomed to! Hence, stepping into the candlelit dining room; a space which had previously impressed me (as per my review of the cocktail bar on the 'lower-deck') with its decadent décor, funky exposed brickwork and 'careful minimalism', really set the scene for what would inevitably constitute an evening of attentive, informative service and truly exceptional cuisine...
Date and Time: Tuesday 2nd October 2012, 20:30
Name of Establishment: The Square Kitchen*
Location: 14-15 Berkeley Square, Bristol
Reason for Visit: An unmissable opportunity to sample the Square Kitchen's Autumn/Winter Tasting Menu 'on the house' - though you should know that this has not, in any way, affected the review that follows...
Course One – Canapés
Truffle and thyme popcorn / Pea and ham Soup / Mackerel tartare with horseradish and cucumber
Though perhaps better described as appetisers due to how generously they had been portioned, the trio of canapés were a fantastic introduction to the level of fine-dining that my companion and I were to be treated to throughout the course of the evening. Furthermore, the attention to detail more-than set the bar for the courses to come and the experimental undertones to the varying attributes of the dish hinted at the playful nature of the theme for the evening. Most importantly though, everything was delicious – winning beginnings indeed!
Course Two – Appetiser
Seared scallop, raisin, Granny Smith
It's not often that I'm speechless (those who know me well will vouch for this) but I can honestly say that this was the most perfectly-executed scallop that I've tasted to date whereby its tender yet juicy composition had been appropriately accented with the zing of ripened apple; and this, delicately slithered so not to overpower the dish. I'm not sure that I could detect the raisin content but this certainly didn't dampen what was otherwise a triumph which essentially left us wanting more!
Course Three - Start
Battenberg of foie gras, ham hock and confit duck with piccalilli, apricot and chopped hazelnut
This course demonstrated as much skill in its construction as it did knowledge of the varying tastes and textures that would suitably complement each other. The image below really doesn't do the dish any justice as the flavoursome 'bricks' of rich-tasting charcuterie altogether facilitated that distinctive checkered battenberg effect. That said, although the ham hock and confit duck were unanimously well-received, the rich, creamy fragrance of the foie gras was deemed a little overpowering and, in some cases, left untouched by the more ethical diners in our midst.
Course Four – Fish
Course Four – Fish
Cornish turbot, pommes mousseline, pork belly and sea garnish
Combining crispy pork belly with the delicate flakiness of fresh turbot was, in my view, a touch radical and yet, with the creamiest potato purée known to man tying both aspects together it most definitely worked – you could say a contemporary take on the concept of 'surf 'n turf'!
Course Five – Meat
Venison, salsify, soil, snails, herbs, flowers and nettles
I must admit that I was both daunted and intrigued by the premise of this particular ensemble; though, imaginatively assembled to replicate a wind-swept, fall-blooming garden, it proved as visually alluring as it was appetising...Now, I’ve never eaten snails without an ample dousing of garlic butter and so, left with their naturally occurring earthiness, I can safely say that I'm not a fan! That said, the venison coupled with the make-shift soil (which had been created from de-hydrated mushrooms we later discovered) was simply fantastic.
Course Six – Pre-Dessert
Pear and whiskey with home-made sherbert
The novelty-factor of adding sherbert to a bitter-sweet concoction of pear and whiskey comprised a subtly fizzy and suitably refreshing palate-cleanser...just lovely!
Course Seven – Dessert
Thai-curry flavours: Ginger cake / Lime leaf ice cream / Lemongrass custard / Coconut and coriander panna cotta
Controversially, though dessert is usually the highlight of any meal (well for me at least), this was in fact, my least favourite of the seven courses. I think that the dominant fragrances of coriander and lime-leaf are an acquired taste at the best of times and as part of a dessert, additionally so! I also thought that the spicy meringues were a touch too far....I mean, I'm all for creativity when it comes to coupling and contrasting savoury flavours but when it comes to pudding, I'm clearly a traditionalist at heart!
To note that the Tasting Menu will set you back £55 and an accompanying wine flight is available at £19 per person. On this occasion however, I opted for a large glass of the Bosari Inzolia (£5.50 for 250ml); selected with the helpful tasting notes that categorise the more-than ample line-up of vinos. The cocktail menu is also rather enticing with a varied spectrum of composites; ranging from the familiar modern classics to the venue's avant-garde creations.
In conclusion, it's fair to say that my dining companion and I were both suitably wowed by our experience of the Square Kitchen; enjoying the overall ambiance of the establishment and, of course, the fare – which we later learned is locally sourced (where possible); utilising free-range organic Devon Rose meat and Brixham fish. Furthermore, the intended aesthetics of the seasonally-driven theme were entirely achieved and although this was perhaps taken to the extreme in places, it unquestionably showcased the imagination and culinary skill of Head Chef Gavin Lewis and his team. It's ironic that to be considered 'a square' is to be regarded as dull and rigidly conventional as judging from the dishes experienced on the evening in question, courtesy of what is without question, an innovatively assembled Tasting Menu, it's established ethos is anything but...!
And now for the second opinion...
My dining companion gave the Square Kitchen a rating of 9/10 and in three words, described the fare as, 'imaginative and well-presented'.