LSQ2, Reading, Berkshire
LSQ2 stands in a business park outside Reading. I'll let you get over the giddy joy of that opening sentence before going on.
A few tech giants, such as Microsoft, have their UKHQs nearby. LSQ2, a vaguely Nordic, wood and windows affair, is near Lime Square. One bright spark thought that, Lime Square being the location of the restaurant, and adding a little '2' to a number having the effect it does, they could give the place a chic appeal for the nearby maths geeks by calling it L[ime] SQ[uare] '2' (i.e. 'squared'). By some margin, it’s the most pretentious, convoluted name I’ve ever seen for a restaurant. '2' is a redundant repetition of 'SQ', and the name literally reads Lime Square Squared. As a name, LSQ2 also has the unhappy attribute of being both pointlessly complicated (to the nth degree, maybe) and incredibly ineffectual, since it tells you nothing about the values of the place, or of its food.
An ominous start, then. Why Reading? I'm on company training in Berkshire, and it's Christmas party season. From its website, LSQ2 looks a fine choice. It boasts of a not-quite-recent fêting as Reading Restaurant of the Year 2007, 'recommended in the Michelin Guide' no less. Sunny pictures of light, airy spaces predominate. The restaurant is proudly 'adjacent to the new Ecotricity wind turbine'. Charmant!
'The essence of our brasserie is simplicity,' states the web-blurb. Well, let's take a look. One starter is 'green tea smoked salmon' with a salad made with mango and quince, some miso flavouring, and horrible-sounding 'crayfish coulis'. 'Simple', yes, but only in the way that people who talk to themselves are. Elsewhere is 'Vietnamese duck roll' - which sounds like a wrestling move - with hoi sin dressing and something called 'Asian slaw'. Mains include 'roast Norfolk turkey' with 'all the traditional trimmings' and, of all possible ingredients in the world, water chestnuts; while amongst the puddings is a coconut and sticky rice pudding with palm sugar and a 'toffee crust'.
This menu couldn’t be more messed up if it downed a litre of Beefeater while spinning in a centrifuge. Vague approximations of what its website styles 'honest, wholesome and satisfying' cooking – which makes it sound like a Richard Curtis film – appear in a couple of British classics like roast rib of beef (though with cauliflower and horseradish purée) or the 'Norfolk turkey' (presumably factory farmed in Norfolk, and doing little for the chef's professed commitment 'to use local suppliers'). Yet even here, the beef has an onion gravy mixed with soy, and the turkey is inexplicably glazed in maple syrup. Can't they just leave things alone?
Like the restaurant's name, then, the food has been desperately, disparagingly, despairingly mucked about with – a hodgepodge of Asiatic ingredients superimposed onto classic, hearty, aeon-forged British or European dishes. I'm afraid it eats no better than it sounds.
I'm not sure what's Vietnamese about my 'Vietnamese duck roll'. The tepid bird, shredded and stirred into shop-bought hoi sin, has been wrapped in a distinctly unVietnamese tortilla and half-heartedly toasted. Sliced in two, it's assembled to look like a Labrador's splintered thigh bone. It spikes above that 'Asian slaw' - apparently worms in brown gloop. It's the ugliest thing I've been served for a long time, and what makes it worse is the almost pathological fussiness of its conception, the bafflingly muddle-headed desire to elevate a Pret duck wrap, not exactly an inspiring meal to begin with, to brasserie fare. It remains uneaten.
Next is pork belly with leeks and mustard mash, a dish I'd looked forward to because the chef hadn't felt the need to slather it in pulped dragon fruit, nam pla reduction or emulsified coriander. Instead, out of the kitchen rears a grease-sodden, chewy lump of pig meat, with sweet and sour sauce from a budget Chinese takeaway, artificially pallored, ridden with chunks of raw vegetables and as 'honest, wholesome and satisfying' as nail polish remover. Vegetables are undercooked bowls of Brussels sprout, cauliflower (when has anyone ever said to themselves that what they really fancy for supper is some boiled cauliflower?) and a few other vegetative scraps.
Pudding is apple crumble, truly the worst I've ever had - magnificently, extravagantly uncrumbly, instead with a sort of sweet, breaded paste on top, and a sob-worthy apple puree underneath, conceivably from a jar. Some bought-in vanilla ice cream has a mint leaf for a garnish - mint, of course, brings little to apple; although perhaps that last tongue of greenery is an attempt to bring another unwelcome Asiatic intruder to an old British classic.
In the interests of fairness, I should mention that the staff are polite and friendly, the house white is reasonably priced at £12.50 for a passable Australian Chardonnay, and the room or terrace probably would be pleasant enough for a drink on a summer's day. But dinner at LSQ2 was operatically disastrous: a shame when it seemed so promising online. If this is truly the best restaurant around, I pity the poor Redingensians.
LSQ2, The Pavilion, 220 South Oak Way, Lime Square, GreenPark, Reading, Berkshire, RG2
Tel: +44 (0) 118 987 3702
See on the TFYS Map
Christmas dinner for one, excluding drinks and service, costs £29.90pp. Typical à la carte mains range from £13 to £20. Not that you really need to know this - you're not going, are you?
I only had the camera on my phone for this dinner - but trust me, the food wouldn't have looked much better on the point-and-shoot.