Sketch is an establishment. Its iconic parlour room with miniature cakes and Blue Mountain coffee is always on the top 10 list of things to do for discerning tourists, alongside attractions like Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussaud’s. My first visit was a pleasant experience. I was blown away by the interiors, enjoyed the lunch experience and loved that they threw us out at 5pm when it became a member’s only place. I wanted to be a member.
Now, almost ten years on, all my other trips to Sketch were initiated by visiting family, friends, friends of friends and distant relatives. Despite this, I failed to dine in their Lecture Room, their flagship culinary section (they have four restaurants on site, as well as three bars). Why would I have? It’s quiet and formal – conceptually different to the other spaces and not the main reason to visit, which was not the best way to show people around. The prices were also rumoured to be astronomical.
A few months ago, I struck a friendship with a work colleague (he’s married to a Ghanaian). We began organising dinners local to our office, a way of consoling ourselves given our long work hours. The couple suggested a visit to Sketch as they had never been due to the user-unfriendly website. It was the perfect excuse to try the Lecture Room.
I’m not going to expand fully on our experience. The tasting menu was phenomenally generous (the Grand Dessert almost tipped us into a sugar-induced food coma); the décor was warm and inviting. Pierre Gagnaire has always been one of my favourite chefs; his Bubble Gum soup at his main restaurant in Paris will never be forgotten. But unlike his flagship, there were several things missing with this Mourad Mazouz joint venture.
The service was poor. Now, it may have been my mock-American accent that caused the French waiting staff to be significantly lacking in skill, but we were either being rushed through the courses or forgotten entirely. Upon arrival, a half an hour early, we asked for a tour and to begin with a cocktail in one of their bars, we were quickly dismissed and whisked to the Lecture Room for dinner. The format of the dining room was awkward, our table was right in the middle of the entrance, as a lectern would be when welcoming new guests (and there were several tours given of the room during the meal, which was particularly awkward).
The dinner service was sub-standard. We waited forever for our sommelier to offer us a glass red with our meat course (this was his original suggestion and we did try and get his attention). Once the meal was over and the cooking staff had left, we struggled to get our bill. Paying is not an experience. Passion is infectious and it felt as though the service had worn thin after several years of glory.
We quickly made our way to the exit, passing several rooms of loud music that were sealed behind high double doors. The place was filled with magic in the past, the sort of feeling that made you feel that there was always a cooler party happening somewhere else in the building that you were not invited to.
Not anymore, the party has crusted and it is time to go home, whatever was behind those double doors no longer hold an appeal.
Sketch (2 out of 5): 9 Conduit St, London, +44 (0) 20 7659 4500
Pierre Gagnaire (5 out of 5): 6, rue Balzac 75008 Paris, +33 01 58 36 12 50