Two MICHELIN Stars : Excellent cooking, worth a detour! I’m not sure about anyone else, but I always find the Michelin Guide’s definition to stars, a tad, well…under-stated. Originally established back in 1936, I personally have to wonder whether an element of refinement is now required in the 21st Century. I mean, seriously – ‘excellent cooking, worth a detour’? Based on where I live, that could define a number of exceptional eateries in Cardiff!
Definitions aside though; the accolade of two Michelin Stars is unfortunately still proving elusive in Wales, and therefore to achieve that tick on my ‘bucket list’, a trip across the bridge was always going to be a necessity.
Sketch on Mayfair’s Conduit Street in London has been on my radar for a while. You need only to take a look at its website, or read through one of the various online reviews, and you can guess why! Don’t get me wrong, I am all for relaxing meals in a local neighbourhood independent, but if a restaurant offers a unique dining experience, has an element of intrigue surrounding it, or demonstrates any level of damn right weirdness…I am there.
So before I even set foot in Sketch, these are facts that I am aware of:
- It houses a magical forest;
- Chairs wear ballet shoes;
- Pink seems to be a common theme;
- Rather more disturbingly, there are egg-shaped toilets.
…ok you get the drift.
The brainchild of restaurateur Mourad Mazouz and celebrated French master chef Pierre Gagnaire, Sketch is, for want of a better word, a playful London ‘dining emporium’. Housed over two floors of a converted 18th century building in Mayfair, it is made up of a number of uniquely decorated spaces, including The Parlour, The Gallery, The Glade and The Lecture Room & Library.
It’s rare that I’m lost for words (some may say that the occurrence would be a blessing), but on entering Sketch, sensory overload prevails – and I can already feel my ability to write a conceivable blog post, ebb away. Ascending a staircase, which to all intents and purpose looks like someone has albeit ‘artfully’ dropped the contents of the B & Q paint aisle down it, you are warmly greeted by a ‘welcoming committee’. I find the theatrics amusing; one is dressed in a French maid’s outfit (everyone else remains in relatively normal attire), while the other leads us up the barrier roped stairs, and elaborately opens the double doors to the luxurious Michelin starred Lecture Room & Library.
At this point, I will say my interior photos, do not do these rooms justice…the decor is beyond imaginable, in all aspects – from the high, ornate ceilings, mirrors, lighting and padded walls. As I take my seat, literally the only word that escapes my lips is ‘wow!’ Crisp, white tablecloths, dress well spaced tables; and while my mind, in its ignorance, wanders off and debates to the point of the upside down cutlery (apparently it’s a ‘French thing’, where silverware is placed on the backside to show monograms), menus arrive and are presented in a similar manner to award night certification.
With a wine ‘list’ to match some bizarre, grape inspired literary work of art – it’s the type of book that will induce one of two reactions; wonderment at the vast array of wines that must be sitting in the confines of Sketch somewhere; or fear from the sheer amount of choice or cost – believe me some of these bottles would require a six figure salary. Either way it’s enough to leave you gawping at the sommelier like a goldfish, and ordering a G & T instead! Needless, to say I bypass the £1K+ collection, and rather randomly choose the Romanian Paparuda Cramele Recas Sauvignon Blanc. Priced at a more realistic £38 a bottle, it’s pleasant enough with flavours of passionfruit, tangerine and gooseberry – but leaves a slightly sour taste in your mouth when you return home and realise you could have purchased 6 bottles online for the same price! Anyway…
Menu choices lie with an à la carte or an eight course tasting menu; at £120 per person – I will say these prices are not for the faint-hearted. I only hope it’s worth the inevitable credit card bill at the end.
Selecting the tasting menu, I only wish they all started off with an elegant vodka martini….it feels like I should be playing a cameo role in a James Bond movie. Rather sadly, Daniel Craig is nowhere in sight (well I can dream), however I like where this evening is heading.
Accompanying the martini; a selection of beautifully presented amuse bouche whet the appetite. I truly wish I could note them all, yet the speed in which they are rattled off in a deep French accent leaves me debating on what I am about to eat. I needn’t worry, the four plates delivered are delicious, and a clear illustration of what is to follow.
The bread offering comes in the form of a fresh, white baguette, sweet butter bread and brown bread. Served with choices of salt, citrus and brown butter with black salt, it’s everything you would imagine it to be and more. So much more, that a second portion is a necessity.
Entitled ‘Caviar’; the first dish of the tasting menu delivers a bowl of beautifully fresh, home-made tagliolini combined with a caviar cream, grappa, chives and onions. Imaginative, and demonstrating an impressive level of precision in pasta presentation; the roll is theatrically topped at the table, with a spoonful of rich, nutty Russian Oscietra Caviar. Bold, sophisticated flavours and texture combinations are evidently the ‘name of the game’.
Course two marks the arrival of triple plates; a concept which ensures that I will be returning home with over 150 food photographs in my possession! Refined small plates of a bisque, tongues and a scallop are placed with a level of precision that leaves them mirroring those delivered across the table. Clearly the front of house have done this before…or have an invisible set square…or are just superhuman. Based on their inability to walk, but glide around a dining room, this final option seems the more believable.
Staring at the three plates, it’s difficult to know where to start. While each ingredient speaks for itself, the dishes combine beautifully to create a well-balanced and innovative course. Delicate and soft scallops, a flavoursome bisque, and a sharp cider, apple purée are stand out features.
Tongues with brown butter, a slice of scallop and green puy lentil gnocchi
Bisque with green Bangkok curry, crosnes and salsify
A grilled scallop, seaweed veil and apple purée with cider
The third course returns to a single plate, and delivers an expertly grilled and poached line-caught fillet of Cornish sea bass. Topped with a Parmesan, ginger, almond powder and herb crust, and swimming in a complementary creamy, champagne sauce with capers and pine nuts; all I can say is, it’s addictive. I’m not sure if any one has ever been thrown out of a 2 Michelin Star for licking the plate, but for this fish I am willing to risk it! Rich, salty and creamy, the well-judged use of ingredients produces one outstanding dish, and my favourite for the night .
While minimal in appearance, dish four reaches a level of refinement and sophistication, which I have to say, I haven’t experienced before. Pan-fried duck Foie Gras, Ostra Regal No. 4, Sauerkraut “Johannes” (or as I refer to it as – the best ‘surf and turf’ ever) is simply a plate of pure pleasure. The star of the show is an oyster, which may as well have just been plucked out of the sea; however the individual flavours, range of textures and smokiness that assault your senses are nothing short of divine.
Course five, and we move onto the meat, and back to triple plates. Soft and tender Scottish venison is marinated with juniper and sarawak black pepper, and served with roasted cabbage leaf and quince paste. If you’re a carnivore (and not a big fan of Bambi!), it’s the type of dish that puts a smile on your face. Jokes aside though, it is a beautiful plate of food, and again when combined with the smaller dishes of accompanying traditional civet, sweet red cabbage and beetroot, it is nothing short of stunning.
Traditional civet and Jerusalem artichokes
Red cabbage, beetroot and apricot sorbet
While I have no wish to lower the tone of this blog post, you can’t visit Sketch and not mention the toilets. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of investigating the aforementioned egg-shaped cubicles (maybe one for next time), but instead my ‘comfort break’ ensures I enter a world of glitz and glam. Think ice cream van chimes playing in the background, diamanté spiderwebs adorning black walls, and toilet rolls on crystal swings…no I am not joking, and wait it gets better!
On returning from powdering my nose, I am officially welcomed back…twice. Rather randomly, imagine the ending from the movie ‘Big Fish’ and I almost expect trumpets, confetti, whoops and cheers as I succeed in completing my task. While away, my napkin has been re-arranged from the crumpled heap I left it in, and apparently someone has found the need to sweep my chair…well you can take the girl out of Wales, but you cant take Wales out of the girl.
With two courses remaining, it’s time to head onto the puds. Entitled ‘Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert’; it is defined as a combination of six miniature desserts, delivered in two services. Now I’m not much of a pudding eater, and I have to say to be faced with the prospect of so many sweet courses is a little daunting. And while some are absolutely fabulous – sweetie darling (sorry couldn’t resist – ha ha!) namely a chocolate cinnamon tart, thai grapefruit, liquorice ice cream and mango sorbet; overall I am slightly underwhelmed. Perhaps, I am expecting a little more from a 2 star – ‘a showstopper’ essentially – but there are aspects I even find unpleasant…coconut, I am looking at you.
Finally, it wouldn’t be right to end this blog post without mentioning the bill. Ok, I am well aware what is coming in terms of the monetary aspect…what I am not expecting is the eccentric method of delivery. Needless to say, it ensures that I leave the restaurant debating its meaning; a favourite book of the Master Chef or Mourad Mazouz? An obscure literary reference? A thought-provoking talking point? Or is it quite simply there to sum up the dining experience as a whole…wonderfully bizarre.
- The word ‘surreal’ does not even come close to describing Sketch. It’s an intriguing, luxurious and comfortable space, where the level of detail is beyond imagination. It is the ideal setting for sophisticated French cooking.
- The atmosphere in the Lecture Room is relaxed and unhurried – you are there for the evening (4 hours in my case!)
- Service…oh where to start, it’s obscenely good and needs to be seen to be believed…that’s if you can see it!
Would I recommend Sketch?
So heading back to reality…if you can when it comes to Sketch. This place is not going to appeal to everyone, a comparison to ‘marmite’ could be made – I, for one, am on ‘Team Love’. Irrespective, it is expensive, but you’re in a 2 Michelin star restaurant in Mayfair, so let’s take this out of the equation. Quite frankly there is little point sitting there wondering if the dishes are value for money, this is all about the dining experience.
The food is sublime and the decor is unique. And while there is a slight air of pretentiousness that may leave some people feeling a little uncomfortable, if you enjoy and value this level of fine-dining, it is most certainly worth experiencing Sketch.
Address | 9 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XG
Web | sketch.london