Let’s be clear. This isn’t cookbook that the average chef will be dipping into for a dish of the day. It’s not chockablock with 30-second recipes or kwick’n’eazi ideas for family suppers. It’s a testament of a remarkable culinary intelligence rather than a cookbook in the conventional sense. The recipes come undiminished and unsimplified from the kitchen of The Square. It gives a clear and penetrating insight into the creative processes of a hugely talented chef, and into the levels of skill and passion needed to lift a restaurant to the highest level and keep it there. In short, it reminds me of why we go to restaurants, and why we should pay the prices they ask of us.
Phil has been the chef at The Square for since 1991. For 15 of those years it has held two Michelin stars. This is a remarkable achievement by any criteria. Quite how remarkable I had not realized until I meandered through the book. Illuminated by brilliant photographs by Jean Cazals, it ‘s a record of the extraordinary quality of Phil’s gastronomic range and culinary taste. In my experience, odd though it may sound, taste is a rare commodity in the lofty world of high class restaurants.; taste in the sense of knowing unerringly what goes with what. It’s like perfect pitch in music, and very few chefs have it. Phil Howard is one of the chefs who has. There isn’t a dish I don’t want to eat, preferably several times.
All this is about as far removed from the world of television cooking, of Masterchef, Professional or amateur, as it is possible to imagine. The attention to detail is astonishing, to the point of being intimidating for the normal mortal. Well, for me at any rate. And yet at the same time I find it inspiring. You can see the brilliance, curiosity and passion of Phillip Howard, at full throttle, and that refreshes my own love of food.
Yes, it’s pricey – £40 for Vol 1: Savoury. I’m never going to cook any of the recipes in The Square Cook Book. I know my limitations. But I will continue to turn to it for inspiration, delight and pure pleasure. For the real thing, I guess I’ll have to save up and go to the restaurant.
The Square The Cookbook: Volume 1: Savoury (Absolute Press. £40)