When it comes choosing to the perfect gift for a foodie friend or family member, what do you go for? A piece of kitchen equipment that you risk duplicating? An exciting ingredient discovery that may or may not appeal?
Or, perhaps, a gift card. I was lucky enough to be sent a gift card from OpenTable – “the UK’s number one restaurant booking website” – a gift card which can be redeemed at a number of restaurants across the UK that are part of the OpenTable offering.
In Bristol, it was only The Square Kitchen in Clifton that accepted the gift cards at the time of writing (although more are being added across the country every day), so we decided to book ourselves in for a three course midweek meal to enjoy.
It’s a strange place, The Square Kitchen. Entry is via the main hotel entrance, walking through a lounge area to the dining room. Tables for two sit alongside long, bench-style tables (which felt unusual, given that the price point is fairly high), and regularly-changing artwork for sale adorns the walls, along with hand-chalked blackboard that looked as though they’d be more at home in a pub. We were seated at a table for two by the window, giving us a prime view of passing pedestrians on Berkeley Square, but also a bit of an earache from the slightly-too-loud music being pumped through the speaker above my head.
After ordering a bottle of Hoegaarden (£4.60) and a Diet Coke (£2.15), it was time to browse the menu, presented on two sheets of paper on a clipboard. It’s a menu that’s very much inspired by traditional British favourites, but with plenty of innovation too to bring them bang up-to-date.
I began with one of the two vegetarian options: Balsamic heritage tomato, basil mousse, bocconcini, basil gel, rocket pesto and tomato spherification (£5.90). It really was a beautifully presented dish. The bocconcini were lovely and fresh, the fresh and semi-dried tomatoes had loads of flavour, the latter lovely and sweet.
Sadly, there were negatives. The rocket pesto was variable – some packed with flavour, some a little watery. The tomato spherification lacked the burst-in-your-mouth texture that spherified ingredients generally have: they were jelly-like all the way through, with very little flavour. The real disappointment was the basil mousse, though: it was more cream than basil, and had a flavour reminiscent of stale water. Needless to say, that was left on the plate – and I was surprised that I wasn’t asked about it when our plates were removed from the table.
For Chris, the Chicken mousse with roasted garlic and tarragon, parmesan panna cotta, chestnut mushroom, pea purée, sautéed peas and sherry vinaigrette (£6.20). A far more positive experience. The chicken mousse was a little salty but had a great flavour and texture, beautifully aerated, while the parmesan crisp was perfectly cooked. The panna cotta was refreshing after the chicken mousse and the milder flavour worked well. He loved the unexpected addition of crispy chicken skin, but felt that the mushrooms weren’t really needed – they were a little lost among the other ingredients.
He was equally enamoured with his lamb main (£18): herb-crusted rump with a lovely pinkness and braised breast, which could be pulled apart with a fork – both were well-seasoned and lovely and moist. It was another attractive-looking dish, and its looks didn’t deceive. The pommes mousseline were incredibly creamy and smooth and tasted ridiculously decadent, while he’s keen to try and replicate the spinach purée at home – smooth, full of flavour and a little peppery, he just wished there had been more!
For me, the Grilled Cornish skate, girolles, salsify, cauliflower purée, pickled cauliflower and hazelnut beurre noisette (£15.50). Definitely a good choice. The firm, meaty fish was perfectly cooked, flaking well under the fork, and was drenched in the lovely nutty butter. Plump and juicy girolles sat alongside relatively bland chunks of salsify, and the pickled cauliflower was fantastic: thin slices that had just enough of a tang but not overpoweringly so.
I wasn’t sure about the cauliflower purée, though – it tasted as though it had been made with fish stock, meaning that there was very little cauliflower flavour there.
To be honest, we didn’t really need to order two side dishes to share, but we’re glad we did – we enjoyed them both. The broccoli with anchovy and toasted pine nuts (£3.70) was a beautiful combination of flavours – the veg itself a little overdone but not too much so. We also loved the herby sautéed Jersey Royals (£3.50), skins still on and a generous portion.
Of course, there’s always room for dessert, no matter how filling the previous courses. We both opted for the chocolate fondant (£6.50), served with salt caramel, hazelnut praline and peanut butter ice cream. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a chocolate fondant ooze over the plate once it’s been broken, and The Square’s version was spot on. It’s a shame that they left a ring of greaseproof paper on top of both of them, but a minor issue…
The salt caramel sauce was generous and featured a decent amount of salt, while the peanut butter ice cream was a definite winner – just a small scoop was enough, as it was incredibly rich.
Service was fantastic throughout the evening, our waiter recommending dishes and drinks to pair with our meals, always with a smile on his face. While some of the dishes were a little hit and miss, it’s clear that the kitchen team know their stuff – at £85-ish for two drinks, three courses and sides each, I’d prefer a little more hit than miss, if I’m honest, but we probably would head back.
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.