Sketch is seriously cool. The decor in all of their many rooms is stunning, even down to the strange towering sculpture of childrens' toys spray painted grey, terrifyingly topped with a Chucky-esque doll. On our initial visit (yes, there were two), we were shown to a table which was disconcertingly close to our neighbours. This is not conducive to a good gossip that my friend and I are prone to indulge in. We were so close that we could see that they got an amuse bouche, and we didn't. Not the best start to a meal.
To start, I ordered the "Red tuna: Cubes of red tuna and vegetables / artichoke, red tuna and soya sauce on toast / curried fruit and vegetable smoothie with olive oil". This was pretty weird - fridge cold slices of raw tuna topped slightly soggy pieces of toast and the tuna cubes floating around in a cold curry sauce was rather unpleasant. Reading back on the menu description I'm not sure what I was expecting really - I was blind-sided by my love of raw tuna.
My main was rather more delicious: "Veal « Palais Royal »: Head and tongue of veal / braised veal cheek /Lentil and herb salad". The meat was tender and succulent, yielding gently underneath my fork. Unfortunately, the lentils were aggressively salted. In contrast, my companion's dish was woefully underseasoned. Perhaps she should have smothered her beef tartare with the lentils. When we complained to the waitress, she looked at us witheringly and said "we don't usually get negative comments about our food. Maybe it's not your style". She's quite lucky she didn't end up with my fork embedded in her face.
We then decided, to get a really rounded experience, we'd have a dessert to share. Having heard that the "Malabar: Bubble gum ice cream / lemon Wurtz / orange blossom marshmallow / pannacotta /crispy green tea" was popular, we thought it best to try this. We were instructed to mix the plate up, which made it look rather like a plate of sick. Upon the second mouthful, my friend made an "errrummpphhh!" kind of noise. I looked at her with horror. She pulled two shards of plastic out of her mouth. At this point, it really was so farcical that all I could do was howl with laughter much to the disgruntlement of our neighbours. It really was the last straw. The manager was apologetic and looked disappointed. Our bill was heavily discounted.
So, when we were offered a complimentary meal, we pondered whether or not to come. But then, I think if a restaurant has ballsed something up so royally, we should give them another chance.
We were treated rather differently. A lovely glass of Champagne in the bar adjacent to the dining room allowed us to catch up over various amusing anecdotes of the weekend passed. We were then seated at a table for just the two of us. Cocktails were proffered, wine was placed on the table, and our meal commenced.
To start, I ordered "Oyster and scallops: Irish rock oysters / sliced scallops and smoked parsley galette /diced cucumber and green apple with Espelette pepper". When the dish was placed down, a pleasing waft of the seaside accompanied it, as did a shot of intense apple foam which I was instructed to eat between bites. Why a plastic shot cup? I thought those days of plastic tableware were over when I turned 5. Anyway, the dish is certainly not for one who may have a problem with textures. The oysters were creamy, the raw thinly sliced scallop beneath it was slippery and delicious. The apple foam was a perfect palate cleanser.
My main, "Roast rump of lamb with Indian spices /spinach and watercress velouté with Roquefort /braised turnip in beetroot stock" looked great when it was placed before me. However, from this dish I have learned that Indian spices, lamb, and Roquefort aren't a combination I would like the try again. The lamb was cooked beautifully but it was too many dominant flavours fighting with each other. In contrast, the beetroot-braised turnip was exactly that and was rather refreshing and sweet over the rest of the dish. Sides of gratin Dauphinois (surprisingly topped with cheese - "Cheddar. Well, Emmenthal, which is like Cheddar") and round lettuce with anchovies were perfunctory.
To finish, we decided on "Dessert for two: Coconut lollipop / prunes / pear and Yuzu / fruit tart / blackcurrant biscuit". Probably a case of eyes bigger than our bellies, but in the name of the full experience, we soldiered on.
I'm glad we did, because although we were unable to finish all the dish, the desserts were very good indeed. The super-sweet prunes stuffed with marzipan was an incredible contrast to the tart, slightly bitter yuzu and pear (far left of the picture).
A final surprise - we finished with espressos, which when stirred seemed thick and viscous but in actual fact were served in silicone cups. Why? I'm not sure, but it's not every day you can squidge your espresso cup.
It's been hard to write about this meal. Our first visit was almost ridiculous, but the way Sketch made up for it was exemplary. The service was impeccable throughout; napkins were picked up and folded on the chair for absent occupiers without making us feel like we were being watched. There was no sign of our nemesis waitress. I'm not sure I would visit again because even though I enjoyed many elements of the food such as the oysters and scallops, there were others which I found misjudged and borderline repulsive - after the first or second taste, I left that Roquefort off my lamb.
However, both times the dining room was packed with beautiful people and people genuinely seemed to be enjoying their meals. Perhaps the waitress was right, and Gagnaire's food is just not my style.
9 Conduit Street
Tel: 0207 659 4500
For Helen's report of the experience, see here.