14 MARCH 1998, Page 57

L° HI 7

By David Fingleton The Square and Les Saveurs

THERE was a time when diners spoke of cooking rather than of chefs, who were thought to be ascetic, taciturn, often grumpy men, rarely seen outside their kitchens. Times change, and we are now in the age of the designer chef: young, glam- orous men, frequently found in newspaper gossip columns, and seldom off the televi- sion screens, which nowadays devote an alarming amount of time to programmes about cooking. One is left wondering when chefs find the time to cook, and how often they may be found in the kitchens which bear their names. In fact, although both Philip Howard and Jean-Christophe Novel- li are far from unknown — Novelli now owns a flotilla of restaurants across London — both were cooking in their kitchens the days I visited their restaurants and came out in chefs whites to say hello. Philip Howard, who is just 31 and a gradu- ate in microbiology, is chef and co-propri- etor of The Square, which started in King Street, St James's, a few years ago, and moved last year to spacious and attractive premises in Bruton Street, with mostly round tables spaced well apart. He and Nigel Platts-Martin, a man of charm and enthusiasm who looks after administration and the exemplary wine list, offer at dinner a three-course set menu — blessedly free of supplements — for £45, and at lunch an a la carte similar but slightly cheaper at £30 to £35 for three courses. I went there with the blonde and beautiful Jemma Kidd who, despite her slender build, is a keen trencher- woman. We dined in order to discuss the forthcoming 1998 Holders Opera and Music Season, held by Jemma's parents in the grounds of their house in Barbados, which I shall be attending — as well as sampling Bajan restaurants — later this month. The Square's menu offers French classi- cal cooking with some innovative ideas, and has a choice of nine dishes per course. From it Jemma started with roast foie gras with caramelised endive and muscat grapes, and I began with a sauté of scallops and langoustines with chanterelles. Before these we had tasted a delicious, subtle veloute of truffles with tortellini of girolles and parmesan, and both the generous por- tion of duck foie gras, effectively accompa- nied by astringent endive and sweet grapes, and my dish of lightly cooked scallops and langoustines with splendid chanterelles in a delicate sauce gave much pleasure. Next, Jemma chose herb-crusted saddle of lamb with white-bean purée and garlic, which arrived perfectly pink: succulent young lamb with a fine crust and a gorgeous purée. My choice was roast Bresse pigeon with a tarragon mousseline and foie gras. This was similar in concept to the pigeon I ate chez Ducasse at the Louis XV in Monte Carlo, though in London the foie gras came not as a fresh escalope but instead as a mousse wrapped in a savoy cabbage leaf, equally valid and similarly successful.

With our main course we drank a splen- didly robust claret, Château Talbot '82 Mr Platts-Martin's enlightened suggestion — and continued with a truly remarkable cheeseboard, in perfect condition and offering such novelties as camembert de chevre and aged gouda, as well as glorious Munster and epoisse. Somehow we man- aged to find room for desserts: pithivier of prunes and armagnac with molasses parfait for Jemma, superb millefeuille of pears with pear William for me, much enhanced by delicious homemade sorbets kindly offered by the manager, Jacques Carlino. Service, as well as running on oiled wheels, has abundant charm, and there was a splen- did feeling of well-being in the room. This English-owned establishment has got it right and I shall return.

Whereas every table had been full for dinner at The Square, I was distressed to find that when I went to Les Saveurs for lunch on a Friday, with la belle gourrnande Nathalie Jarnot, we were at one of just two occupied tables. It is not long since Jean- Christophe Novelli took over from Marco- Pierre White, and I was assured that a roar- ing trade was being done at dinner. I hope that lunchtimes will improve, as Jean- Christophe's set lunch menu, which I ate, offers admirable value at £19.50 for two courses, £25 for three, and the a la carte, chosen by Nathalie, has much interest. My first course from the set menu was magnifi- cent: a warm salad of duck livers and lambs' tongues with a tasty confit of red onions and a salad of mixed leaves. From the carte Nathalie chose an impressive tartare of home-cured trout with chopped cucumber, and a mixed-leaf salad with quail egg and truffle oil, topped with caviar (£12.50), which was good, but perhaps offered too many flavours. Next she chose an excellent fillet of beef (£26) cooked saignant, and (again) over-garnished with mixed mush- rooms, plus risotto served with roast shallot, cepe oil and parmesan crackling. My roast fillet of pork with walnut and raisin risotto and a light masala curry sauce was simpler, subtler, and thus more successful. I ended with an impeccable raspberry soufflé, and Nathalie chose a chocolate fondant with a runny centre, which was 'wonderful'. With a sound bourgeois Medoc from Lamarque, Château Malescasse '93, this was an enjoy- able lunch, if not altogether helped by the over-complication of some dishes, nor by the eerie emptiness of the basement room. Let us hope that both problems will be swiftly remedied.

The Square: 6-10 Bruton Street, London WI; tel: 0171 495 7100. Closed Saturday and Sunday for lunch.

Les Saveurs: 37a Curzon Street, London Wl; tel: 0171 491 8919. Closed Saturday lunch and on Sunday.