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This is a tough Catey to win when you consider the calibre of restaurants out there at the moment. To Philip Howard's credit, the judges soon narrowed the shortlist down to the Square, impressed by his talented approach to business, combined with an enviable flair in the kitchen and the support of a crack team that includes head chef Robert Weston.
Howard has been chef and co-owner of the two-Michelin-starred Square, alongside business partner Nigel Platts-Martin, since 1991. But his focus has remained in the kitchen. While the style of his cooking has progressed, receiving countless accolades over the years, the fundamental integrity of his dishes, using seasonal ingredients, remains unchanged.
He learnt his craft by training with such culinary trail-blazers as the Roux brothers and Marco Pierre White. And after Platts-Martin asked him to front the Square, he never looked back. He won his first Michelin star in 1994 and added a second in 1995, when the restaurant relocated from St James's to its current Mayfair site.
In 2005, he opened a second restaurant with Platts-Martin, the Ledbury in Notting Hill, with protégé Brett Graham behind the stove. By 2010, this, too, had a brace of Michelin stars. In 2009, Howard opened Kitchen W8 with Rebecca Mascarenhas of Sonny's fame and it is testament to his ability to train and develop talent that another former Square sous chef, Mark Kempson, took the stove and the restaurant gained a Michelin star this year.
It is the Square where Howard concentrates his day-to-day involvement, however. Always packed out, despite a tab of up to £65 for three courses without wine, this restaurant has been described by critic AA Gill as deserving three Michelin stars rather than its two. "The Square should do well despite the blessed recession," he wrote in the Sunday Times. "Talent and skill and an enduring fascination with your craft will always have a value beyond graphs and pie charts."
His peers are generous with their admiration, too."Philip has quietly been at the forefront of running great restaurants over the past 20 years. His passion and hard work has helped make the world regard London as a great gastronomic destination. He is an amazing role model to all and has the inspirational talents of a true master," said judge Chris Galvin, chef-patron, Galvin Restaurants.
But perhaps one of the greatest endorsements comes from his former sous chef, Graham, who said: "Phil is one of the few gentlemen in this trade. He is very respectful of his staff and always treated me like an equal."
ShortlistedWill Beckett and Huw Gott, owners, Hawksmoor
â- Richard Corrigan, chef-patron, Corrigan's/Bentley's
â- Philip Howard, chef-owner, the Square
â- Simon and Sanja Mullins, owners, Salt Yard Group
The JudgesPascal Aussignac, chef-patron, Club Gascon
Hannah Bass, operations director, ETM Group
Anthony Demetre, chef-owner, Arbutus Restaurants
Chris Galvin, chef-patron, Galvin Restaurants
Shaun Hill, chef, the Walnut Tree
James Thomson, proprietor, the Witchery by the Castle
Richard Vines, chief food critic, Bloomberg News
Robert Walton, director, Trunkwell House