Sketch London: Where Afternoon Tea Involves Going Down The Rabbit Hole
Rarely has a restaurant’s dining space left me so perturbed (in a good way) to the extent that I spend a good half an hour, starry-eyed and in some sort of existential crisis. If you’ve patronised the slice of modern quirk that is Sketch London, you’ll completely understand my sentiments. If you’ve not, be prepared to be plucked off Oxford Street and get flushed down a pink proliferated rabbit hole.
I advise you to do your homework and make reservations way ahead of time. There are many people ahead of you just waiting to admire the 300+ David Shirley sketches adorning the cherry blossom pink stained walls. Fashionistas dressed to the nines, followed with an entourage of dedicated paparazzi friends; Tourists exhausted from posing in all the hidden alcoves, their noses buried in their phones; the unusual suspects of high-tea connoisseurs (aka grandmas) looking to put some groove back into their high-tea game—they all congregate at this Mad Hatters tea party.
It’s a menagerie of guests in a tight pink space, and if you think that’s enough to prompt some sort for panic attack in me, wait till you see the throng of staff behind the rose gold plated bar (I was unfortunate to be sat facing in that direction), some scanning the crowds with hawkeye precision and deadpan stares. Thank goodness for the string trio with their easeful compilations.
If you think this review is headed for catastrophe, trust me, it’s not. Once you’ve taken a whirlwind visual tour of the artwork across the room, soaked in its dramatic milieu, and settle into the comfy pink banquettes, you’ll be greeted by a high-tea menu of the most abstruse kind. Each page depicting the various courses, down to the nitty-gritty details of layered sandwiches broken down in true architectural spirit. Of course, there will be tea, and the parlour has certainly outdone itself, showcasing a range of 30 teas from all around the globe. Though the choice of Brut Champagne to accompany your afternoon delights over pots of chai, matcha and lapsang souchong may be debatable.
“I am the caviar man,” says a butler clad in a carnation pink tailcoat and a beige fedora as he proffers his tasty goods; upon closer inspection, a bowlful of sturgeon caviar. And despite the extravagance of the comté cheese mornay enveloping the 63° egg, the forbidden fruit is unequivocally the pearl spoon of caviar. If it took a mere test of patience to sit through a somewhat awkward presentation of sturgeon caviar’s ludicrous properties through a thick slurry of French pidgin, it was well worth it. Take a nip off the spoon first before proceeding to stir it into the cheesy egg mixture, the bursts of salinity giving personality to the egg and soldiers. Heady stuff, all of it.
The feast kicks off proper with the arrival of the three-tiered stand, with the exception of a periphery serve of Truffled eggs gougère which I suggest you dive into first before the rest of the riotous confections. Food and nostalgia intersect in the Coronation free-range chicken sandwich; a leafy green asparagus, cucumber and ricotta sandwich follows. Then the headliners, a dainty roulade of Scottish smoked salmon plumped with Jacobs Cream over rye bread—a serendipitous ‘accident’ resulting in soured cream that my palette eventually benefitted from. Last but not least on the savoury plate, lies a beguiling simple tartlette. But that’s the magic of the place, its more than meets the eye. Chocolate, lemon and port amass a trifecta of flavours, all neatly tucked away like a ticking time bomb in a crispy tart shell. Foie Gras Royale that has been infused with cognac plumping up the mouthfeel.
Sugar-hit highlights include the Pistachio and Apricot cake—pistachio sponge layered fastidiously with apricot preserves spiked with warm spices. The caramel and chocolate eclair is exemplary, a testament of robust choux pastry making skills in the kitchen, flecked with gold leaf for that touch of pizzazz. A deep shooter glass holding white peach and verbena cheesecake beckons. A couple of spoonfuls and they’re gone: much like the maniac summer heat waves that plagued London.
Admittedly, the scones are not Sketch’s strong suit. The smooth biscuits leaving a slight parchedness in my mouth. However, you’d be a fool not to employ these as mere vessels to transport the luxurious Cornish clotted cream and organic strawberry and poppy jam into your mouth. If you’re partial to cake trolleys, you would have instinctively spotted the Victorian sponge upon waltzing into the room. Do you get it as part of the high tea experience? Yes. And it’s understandable why the motley crew would save the best for last. It may not be fancy nor fashionable, but I would be hard pressed to turn down a classic combination of pillowy vanilla sponge, raspberry jam and buttercream. A feather dusting of caster sugar over the warm cakes adding a satisfactory crunch to proceedings.
At Sketch, the atmosphere is hard to capture or define. Everything from the decor, the tongue-in-cheek art sketches and the meticulous menu, are devoted in the abstract of removing oneself from the banalities of life. Sure, it’s a hefty price to pay for a brief afternoon of escapism. The cherry on top? Head to the toilets to find out.
9 Conduit St, Mayfair, London W1S 2XG, UK, +44 20 7659 4500