Sketch: A Tale of Two Meals

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 (watch out, website may cause headaches)

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21 thoughts on “Sketch: A Tale of Two Meals

  1. Charlie – Seriously, don’t bother.
    Chris – Yeah apparently, it is to celebrate some sort of anniversary but, whatever.
    Melanie – I wish you luck! If you go to the lecture room instead I’d be interested to know how that works out.
    Taylor – Indeed it does!
    Genuiness – £50 for a main! Wow. I’d rather take my £50 and go to the Ledbury, that is for sure.
    Ollie – Frotted and double frotted. I am not a fan.
    Catty – No I haven’t but a friend of mine loves it – I must go!
    James – Yeah, it was most definitely NOT a fondant potato. Anyone who calls that a fondant potato is an idiot. Funnily enough, I had a fondant at Sketch the first time round with my tartare – weird I know. The fondant was actually good.

  2. So you have to have a bad dining experience in order to get a good one? That’s an odd dining concept – how do you keep up with which one it is?

    Some people call those mash potatoes cakes fondant potatoes which is a disservice to the fondants really. The mash potato cakes should really stay on the breakfast plate IMAO.

  3. Plastic shards in your food? that’s completely sue-able!!! To even give them a second chance I think is amazingly humble of you… and I’m glad the second visit was much better. I also didnt like all of Gagnaire’s dishes.

    By the way have you ever been to Crazy Bear in Fitzrovia? The loos are WAY cooler than Sketch’s :)

  4. All the food is so terribly mucked-around-with, isn’t it? Frotted, AA Gill once said in a review. I mean, the ‘Tahiti’, it’s so fiddled and fussed. Decent of them to give you a freebie, but you’re right: the best thing about the place is the loos.

  5. Helen, at those prices, you could have just gone to the Lecture Room & Library – although beware some dishes are even more expensive (£45 for starter, £50 for mains etc.)

  6. It’s been on my list to do that voucher thing too. I figure £50 off is worth a try despite all the negative things I’ve heard in the past. Thanks for letting us know what we should avoid on the menu, though :)

  7. Essentially, there are just too many more much nicer places in London that cost the same amount of money (not withstanding the £50 voucher, which I can’t help thinking smells of desperation?)

    A couple of friends of mine had a very ordinary meal here, and they also brought up the shocking service.

  8. Genuiness – Your poor mum! That is terrible. I don’t care what anyone says – some of those flavour combinations just don’t work. Wait for Lizzie’s write up to hear about her lamb…
    Gourmet Chick – yeah, and pricey too. How much was the afternoon tea?
    Trig – I cannot wait to read that! Going to do it now in fact. I am very intrigued to learn of the high turnover and I am 100% sure that you would never treat your staff badly.
    Niamh – yeah, not worth going without the offer I would say.
    An American in London – It would not have been cheap, the starters were around the £20 mark and the mains around the £30 mark. Not cheap. We also had a free bottle of wine – probably about £20 or so I would say, plus a dessert wine. Oh, and the dessert itself – £18!
    Lizzie – Dude, I felt for ya I really did. Lamb and cheese, lamb and cheese.
    The Graphic Foodie – I know. They were so apologetic about it though that we decided to give them another chance. I can’t say I wasn’t slightly nervous.
    A Forkful of Spaghetti – Exactly. I can definitely say that the food is not worth the money – not in my humble opinion anyway. Chips n cheese on the other hand 😉

  9. V interesting. I always think that one measure of a good restaurant is how they deal with complaints – seems like Sketch scored highly in that regard.

    Seems as though the food is a bit hit and miss, though, which isn’t great when they charge rather fabulous prices…

  10. Good write up! I can’t believe my whole partnering post got lost in the internet ether last night.

    I still can’t help thinking that Malabar looked like a prolapse when it was all mixed up.

  11. I’m impressed Sketch comped an entire additional meal to make up for your first experience. How much would your second meal have cost and would you recommend diners eat there on their own dime? Seems a bit dicey . . . .

  12. Nice write up! Plastic in your dessert – YIKES! I’ve always been intriguerd by Sketch but have yet to go. Might try and offer like that sometime.

  13. I’m glad things seem to have improved, but not enough from the sound of things. Three years ago I published this blog post about a one-day stage I took:
    I’ve never named the place that I described as “more like a Roman slave galley than a modern restaurant”. Until now, that is. I think you’ll find that the root of the problems can be found in the horrendous staff turnover. I made a mental note at the time never, ever to treat my staff like that when I eventually run my own place.

  14. Sounds very interesting. I went to Sketch for the first time the other day but just for the afternoon tea (which is excellent and very traditional as opposed to the rest of Sketch’s food). I agree with you that it is a bit style over substance which is why I was not so keen on going for lunch or dinner.

  15. great write up – you did keep it civil despite the torrid treatment you received. From what I gather, they had just received a new guy at the Gallery (with the former guy promoted to the lecture room) although that is still no excuse for plastic in your dessert. (Perhaps the pastry chef was on crack and thought it was those sugar glass thingies??)

    Btw on the comment I made that some ppl just don’t like Gagnaire’s food – it was a bit presumptious of me because when we went to his restaurant, my mom literally ate one course and then gave up, absolutely hating the whole experience. In fact, she actually went to the toilet to throw up =.=’ (To make matters worse, it was her birthday)


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