Sketch: a 3-star culinary tour, down the hill

Sketch made such a brilliant first impression, I was immediately convinced the special trip was worth it…would it last? By the the end of the day I had to answer one serious question: what happened in the last 3 hours?

People don’t think of London as a culinary capital, but they really should. Other than Paris, no European city has more Michelin starred restaurants than London.

We’re off to the posh Mayfair district in the West End – home of Savile Row, The Royal Academy of Arts, and one crazy, three-story townhouse with 4 restaurants known as Sketch. For 20 years, this iconic place has been a favorite among London’s who’s who.

The owner is Mourad Mazouz, an Algerian-born restaurateur known for pushing the envelope. His vision was to create a place where music, art, food, design and entertainment create a unique experience for the five senses through new wave French cuisine.

The man behind the menu is two-time, 3-star Michelin superchef, Pierre Gagnaire, who has more than a dozen restaurants across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

So we have the visionary and the superchef – surely, these two can do something great, right?

Before we go any further, I need to tell you I’ve been here before. Back in 2019, just before the pandemic. That’s when Sketch was awarded its 3 Michelin stars. I tried it and I have to say I wasn’t blown away. I’m curious to see what has changed in the past three years.

Sketch is unique, I will give it that. There are 4 restaurants in this building, each with its own thing going on. Today, we have a reservation in the fine dining restaurant they call the Lecture Room and Library.

We step into the building. The lobby is quite dark and a bit mysterious. The host finds our name on the list, and brings us upstairs. Standing there is a beautiful woman in a French maid outfit. She says nothing. She is art. 

Then, the host dramatically throws open the curtains and…wow. This is another world. It’s like we were suddenly pushed on-stage at the musical Moulin Rouge – immediate sensory overload. It was the most impressive welcoming I’ve ever seen, anywhere.

We are off to a great start, but can they keep this up?

The sommelier arrives and keeps the theater vibe going. He is Italian and very friendly. His champagne options are extraordinary. Most restaurants don’t carry this quality. We took our pick from the many high-end options including Krug and Jacques Selosse by the glass.

It’s not often you get to just ‘have a glass’ of champagne from such prestigious bottles. Usually, if you want a taste, you need to buy the bottle. Not here. They aim to give you an experience you’ve never had before.

The lady who welcomed us at our table was very stiff and formal. No jokes, no smiles, just business. She would fit in perfectly in a standard French restaurant but didn’t really match the cool bohemian theater vibe they had going on here. I was hoping for a more relaxed server. Hopefully the food will be worth it.

They offer two types of tasting menu: a classic and a vegetarian and there is the á la carte menu as well

The amuse bouche arrives, and I have it with an English sparkling wine that was quite something. I’m a champagne lover at heart but this was worth trying. Very nice. 

Then, the first course – lobster. Prepared in 3 parts, served on 3 plates. Interesting concept. For me, the sophistication was missing. Also missing was a sharp knife. I’m not sure if it was the knife or the lobster, but getting into this thing was mission impossible.

Second course, Fillet of Scottish Trout. It was very good. The flavors and textures really blended nicely.

And then … nothing.

I’m serious. Nothing. For 30 minutes. Maybe there was an intermission they didn’t tell us about I don’t know. So naturally, we get bored and start looking around. We start to notice the little mistakes now that we are up close. The fabric is faded and a little shabby. My English teacher taught me an expression that fits: ‘Good from far but far from good’. That is Sketch. 

One thing that many people comment on are the bathrooms.

They may be the most instagrammed bathrooms in London. When you go in, you know why. Everything in Black and blue glass with crystals everywhere, it felt like a mystical dream world (alien planet). Nobody asked me for advice, but if they did, I’d tell them to pay a bit more attention in the dining room.

So, let’s recap.

In the plus column we have the amazing first impression, wonderful champagne service and cool bathroom. And in the minus column we have the lobster fiasco, the 30-minute intermission and the shabby fabric. Three to three. But then, they really drop the ball.

Unfortunately, I asked for the wine pairing.

There are times when wine is not a drink, but it is art: there are only a few bottles so the whole world wants to buy it. In such cases, you can also be part of this experience, you can taste several different items, for example they have Alvarinho from a Portuguese winery that produces only 3,500 bottles a year and all of them are bought by the restaurant.

I asked for the wine pairing offered to the menu, but the sommelier was waiting for the kitchen to serve the drinks at the right temperature for the food – so he comes out and shows me the bottle, then leaves without filling. He was a well-qualified, cheerful Italian guy, of course he wanted to serve the wine at perfect temperature, but the kitchen, the service, the restaurant were not in harmony, simply nothing worked.

It was clear that there was some confusion going on behind the scenes. I’ve never seen this before, and what I experienced is something you will probably never see at a 3 Michelin star restaurant. Normally, it flows, like an opera, with everything in the right place at precisely the right time. That may be the case here at Sketch, but it wasn’t on the night I went. 

Sketch also failed in some of the basics. For example, it’s normal for the table to be cleared of any crumbs or pieces on the tablecloth throughout the meal. During our visit, they missed it.

Finally! The main course arrives!

Two small slices of lamb and grilled vegetables arrive after 2 hours and 20 minutes. The flavor was nice, but not next-level. Same with the presentation – you’d expect some dramatic technology or creativity from a 3 Michelin star restaurant, but I didn’t get it here.

The meal ended with a raspberry sorbet that was so, so good. But not good enough to mask the bad taste in my mouth from the cold service, long wait, poor coordination and disappointing food.

I wish I could say better things, I really do.

Sketch makes an amazing first impression and has a stellar wine list. The sommelier was fantastic. Then, it all goes down-hill. The actors were great,  but the director was on vacation. I’ve given Sketch a second chance, but I won’t be giving it a third.

My recommendation?

Check it out. Come to Sketch. Experience the amazing job the designers did transforming this space into another world. Have a beautiful cocktail or glass of champagne. Take a selfie in the bathroom. But when you arrive at the Lecture Room and Library, keep walking. The service and food are better at the Four Seasons.

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