We last reviewed The Square Kitchen, on Clifton’s Berkeley Square, back in September 2011, when a post-work drink with a fellow blogger led to hunger and the search for a bite to eat. Since then, head chef Gavin Lewis – who continues to have a focus on all things local and seasonal – has launched a brand new 7 course tasting menu, which we were happy to head over and review…
Priced at £55 per head, it’s definitely more of an “occasion” menu for most, but the innovation and skill that go into each of the seven courses makes it well worth the money. On the evening, we were there as guests of The Square, but both decided to pay a further £19.50 for the wine flight, which provided us with a 125ml glass of wine to accompany four of the seven courses.
We were a little confused that the first of the wines was brought out with the first course rather than the second – which it had been matched with – and that we had no explanation as to what the wine was and why it had been chosen, and sadly this was also the theme with the other three wines that were brought to our table over the course of the evening.
We began our meal with a canape-style course of truffle & thyme popcorn, pea & ham soup and mackerel tartare, horseradish & cucumber. “Canapes” is a very misleading description, though, as the portion sizes were very generous indeed!
The popcorn was delicious – a truffle hit on the first bite, fading to your standard popcorn flavour – but we couldn’t taste the thyme at all. The soup, I can honestly say, was the best pea & ham soup I’ve ever tasted, with the intense flavour of freshly shelled garden peas and huge, salty chunks of ham hock nestling in the bottom of the cup. We both loved the mackerel tartare, served with little spheres of cucumber and freshly grated horseradish, but felt that the beetroot dominated the fresh fish a little too much.
Course two saw us enjoying seared scallop, raisin and Granny Smith – a single, perfectly cooked scallop with a sliver of fresh green apple and a sauce reminiscent of the apple compote that I used to eat when younger (in a good way). We couldn’t taste the raisin at all, but this didn’t detract from our enjoyment of this course at all.The Callia Reservado Torrontes was a great match, the dryness cutting through the sweetness of the fruit.
The third course was probably my favourite of the evening – a Battenberg of foie gras, ham hock & confit duck, with piccalilli, apricot & hazelnut. Blocks of ham hock, confit duck and foie gras (not one for the more ethical diner…) had been layered and wrapped in ham to resemble the famous cake, making for an incredibly rich course! The apricot purée and tangy piccalilli that also adorned the slate cut through the richness somewhat, and two slivers of toasted bread also ensured that the dish was nicely balanced.
Cornish turbot, pommes mousseline, pork belly and sea garnish made up course number four: again, beautifully presented. Another generous portion, and a great combination of textures and flavours. The pork belly (with perfectly crisp crackling), the fish and the seafood with which it was accompanied could have made for an overly salty dish, but it was perfect – and the pommes mousseline made for the smoothest “mash” I’ve ever tasted.
This course was accompanied by a glass of Macon-Villages Domaine de la Grange Magnien, Louis Jadot – a lovely dry yet fruity Chardonnay, but we weren’t convinced by the pairing.
Our “main course” consisted of venison, salsify, soil, snails, herbs, flowers and nettles. Definitely one of my favourites from a presentation point of view. A fantastic slab of venison (possibly a little more well-cooked than I’d normally have it, but it’s all down to personal preference…) topped with a herbed crumb crust was joined by sweet salsify and snails…which I was a little daunted by, as I’ve only ever eaten them with garlic butter. I was pleasantly surprised. The earthy flavour was perfect for this dish, the whole thing being reminiscent of a garden, and they weren’t at all chewy or rubbery!
The only slight disappointment was in the “soil”, which was made from mushrooms that had been dehydrated and rehydrated, and was overly chewy.
The venison was accompanied by our third glass of wine: a Torres Celeste from the Ribera del Duero, a fullbodied and slightly spicy Tempranillo which we certainly enjoyed with the venison.
Course six was a palate cleanser of pear & whiskey and homemade sherbert. Served in shot glasses, the tangy, fizzy sherbert was spooned into the glasses at the table in front of us – and left in case we wanted more. The intensity of the pear flavour was amazing, but we couldn’t taste the whiskey at all – but a great way of refreshing our palates before dessert.
Dessert was an interesting one, billed as Thai curry flavours: ginger cake, lime leaf ice cream, lemongrass custard, coconut & coriander pannacotta. There’s no doubting the inventiveness here – I’ve never seen anything like it before – but it was a little hit and miss.
The lime leaf ice cream was, without a doubt, my highlight, and the lemongrass custard was enjoyable but actually lost its flavour a little amongst the dominance of some of the other items. The spicy mini meringues completely confused me, and the ginger cake was great flavour-wise but a little dry. The coconut and coriander pannacotta, however, left me completely cold – far too savoury and intense a flavour for a dessert, in our opinion.
Dessert was matched with an Australian dessert wine in the form of the Campbell’s Rutherglen Muscat, with an almost raisin-like flavour and incredibly sweet and sticky. I’ll definitely be looking out for somewhere I can buy a bottle of this…but we just didn’t feel that anything could have been matched well with such a bold dessert!
All in all, a very enjoyable experience. There’s no doubting head chef Gavin’s creativity and passion for food and flavours, but some elements just didn’t work for us. I’d definitely recommend trying out the tasting menu, though, if you can – it’s great to see dishes that are so very different on a menu in Bristol…
Please note: this meal was received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.