Have I been transported to another time and space? Nope, it’s just the loos at Sketch – the restaurant that considers itself a bit of a hipster and is head cheffed by Pierre Gagnaire, famous for his challenging (some might say jarring), texture and flavour combinations. Sketch have been offering 50% discount vouchers recently and so my mate and I jollied on down to The Gallery one evening looking for some top notch grub on the cheap.
We were shown to our table which was uncomfortably close to another group of three, who irritatingly seemed to be getting preferential treatment with an amuse bouche and flashy chat but we tried our best to ignore it.
To start I chose the ‘Tahiti’ – a ceviche of grouper, barramundi and red snapper, marinated in coconut and lime, with pineapple sorbet and coconut shavings. I was excited as I’d never tasted any of the fish before but unfortunately, I didn’t get to taste them here either. Any flavour was so overwhelmed by coconut that the fish was merely a texture. The different types were indistinguishable from one another. The pineapple sorbet was delicious though – a very welcome palate cleanser.
For the main I immediately zoned in on the beef tartare – one of my all time favourite dishes. Sadly, it was almost completely lacking in seasoning (my mates main by contrast was almost inedible due to over salting). There was no egg yolk on top – fine, I realise it’s not essential but it disappointed me nonetheless. The accompanying ‘egg mollet’ did go some way to compensating when I mashed it up on top.
The most confusing element of the entire dish however, was the ‘fresh spicy tomato’. Talk about false advertising. What I actually received was a plastic shot glass (classy), with what tasted like the watery juice from a cheap can of tinned tomatoes with a bit of black pepper thrown in. I am absolutely clueless as to the point of this – the waitress didn’t seem to know either.
She had asked if we were enjoying our meals. When we raised our issues she looked confused, “oh” she said, “we don’t usually get any negative comments.” Right, so er, it’s our problem then? No matter, we decided to soldier on and give them a proper chance by sharing a dessert. “What do you recommend?” we asked. Our waitress faltered and stuttered out a few dishes. My mate enquired about the ‘Malabar.’ “Ah yes” she said, “everyone likes that.” We struggled to work out how this was not a reason for her to recommend it in the first place.
Apparently, you are supposed to mix the whole thing (bubble gum ice cream, orange blossom marshmallow, crispy green tea) together, so that we did. A couple of spoonfuls in and I felt it…something hard and sharp. I looked up at my mate’s face, a mixture of anticipation and horror as she watched me pull the two small shards of clear plastic from my mouth.
The manageress was clearly shocked and upset. She apologised profusely and invited us back for a meal, on the house, as an attempt to compensate for our unpleasant experience. Fair enough.
So it was that we returned to Sketch with open minds and empty bellies. A better table this time started things off on the right foot and we refreshed ourselves with a vodka and rosemary based cocktail which I really got into – like drinking alcoholic herby juice, it made me feel healthy.
To start this time I chose the terrine of foie gras with smoked duck breast, gingerbread, courgette chutney and apricot. “You can’t go wrong with foie gras” my mate remarked. A good smooth swathe of terrine on toasted brioche, a nugget of caramelised peach and a sprinkling of crispy gingerbread bits – heavenly. Courgette chutney was sweet, intense and jammy and actually re-ignited my interest in courgettes, something I feared may never happen.
I threw all ideas of balance out the window and followed foie with roast rib-eye, served with olive and potato cake. The beef was cooked as requested although could have packed slightly more flavour. The potato cake however was just plain weird. You know how mashed potato turns gluey when you over whip it? Well the texture was like that but formed into a cake. On the side, arrived another of those plastic shot glasses, although this time filled with a sorrel flavoured dip and some puffed crispy quinoa wafer things for dipping. It was surprisingly tasty but turned frustrating halfway through when the wafers started to break and I could no longer reach the dippy stuff. Pierre, I urge you, ditch the plastic shot glasses.
For puds we settled on the ‘dessert for two’ – a selection of petit fours basically – the most pleasing of which was a little layered opera cake style chocolatey thing and a sweet and fruity raspberry tart. I also had high hopes for these posh jammy dodgers but by this point we were suffering the effects of over-indulgence and had to leave the majority of the intensely confected biccies just nibbled.
So, did Sketch make up for our shocking meal the first time round? Well, in short, yes. In terms of customer service, they were faultless. They took all complaints squarely on the chin and went all out to repair any damage. During our first visit, we speculated, is Sketch simply a case of style over substance? It is the sort of place people go to see and be seen, and I’ll admit I often glanced around wondering if diners were loving their food just because they think they ought to. I don’t think I’ll ever be the biggest super fan of Pierre Gagnaire’s food but I certainly admire Sketch’s standards of service and you’ve got to admit, those toilets are pretty effing cool.
9 Conduit Street
0207 659 4500
www.sketch.uk.com (watch out, website may cause headaches)