I love a good afternoon tea and there is one place in particular that’s been top of my list to try. Sketch in London offers what can only be described as an afternoon tea extravaganza.
It’s the brainchild of international restaurateur, Mourad Mazouz, and three-time Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire, who is something of an icon of 'fusion cuisine'. Together they have created a wonderland destination for food, art and music.
Based in a Georgian Mayfair townhouse, which was previously the London Atelier of Christian Dior, the outside looks inconspicuous enough, except for a guard-dog sculpture climbing the exterior. However, once inside, you’re awoken to a whole different world. It’s sensory overload with art everywhere that you look.
After a quick game of hopscotch in the entrance, we were shown through to our restaurant of choice.
There are five different rooms to choose from, the Gallery, for afternoon tea and dinner; the Lecture Room, a Michelin-starred dining room serving lunch and dinner; the Glade, a woodland themed bar serving afternoon tea and comfort food; the Parlour, a relaxed area for all-day dining which converts into a private lounge of an evening; and finally, the East Bar, a small, dome-shaped bar located below the famous toilets (more about those later!) Each room is decorated with a unique theme, to transport you to a different world.
We booked to have afternoon tea at the Gallery. This is a beautiful huge pink room, created by Paris based architect and interior designer India Mahdavi, with 239 witty sketches by British artist David Shrigley displayed all over the walls. It forms the largest group of original drawings Shrigley has ever exhibited, exploring the themes of life, death and beyond. They offer great points of conversation between servings. Shrigley's art also extends to the crockery, giving an Alice and Wonderland feel with humorous references to the food as you eat.
Pink velvet booths are dotted all around which reminded me of ladyfinger biscuits. A stunning copper bar-back takes centerstage where fantastic cocktails are created. Behind the scenes, a team of over 50 beaver away in the kitchen making all manner of creations. The Gallery team wear bespoke uniforms of T-shirt dresses and smart, grey boiler-suits. The whole experience is surreal, playful and magical and is probably the most decadent space I’ve ever had afternoon tea.
While oohhing and ahhing at our surroundings, we ordered a couple of glasses of rosé champagne which were poured, theatrically, overhead. Soon after our lovely waitress, Isabelle, wheeled a trolly over to us and began serving our afternoon tea delights. Never have two hungry ladies been so happy, our eyes twinkled as each of the cakes and sandwiches were unloaded in front of us.
The usual afternoon tea sandwiches were on offer (salmon, cucumber, egg mayonnaise and cheese) but all served with a twist. The cheese sandwich, for example, was made with melted mozzarella and wrapped as a gift with a bow, my favourite. The egg sandwich was served with caviar (which I declined) and a little quail egg on top, which looked just like a Haribo fried egg sweet.
The cakes consisted of small patisseries, chocolates, cheesecakes and macarons as well as the obligatory warm scone with clotted cream and jam.
After impressively ploughing through all of the food in under an hour, we were offered complimentary refills which, as tempted as we were, we had to pass on simply due to a lack of space. We did, however, order a couple cocktails which we sat enjoying while watching the team set up the tables for the evening’s a la Carte sitting.
The service we received made the experience so special. Isabelle was exceptional and nothing was too much trouble, constantly topping up our tea and making sure my sandwiches and cakes were vegetarian friendly. I have never met such a cheerful waitress, she told us how much she loves working in Sketch and I can fully understand why!
After eating we went in search of the famous Sketch toilets. These really have to be seen to be believed! A simple trip to the loo becomes a space age odyssey. An all white room with a technicolour ceiling is filled with egg shaped pods. I began to wonder whether my little cakes had contained a hidden ingredient…. As I locked the door to my pod, a voice boomed around me, as though I was in a space-rocket, “Houston we have a problem.” I got out of there as quickly as I could before “blastoff”.
On our way down we spotted a cave like bar under the stairs which we went in for a cocktail. Entering the East Bar was like being in an igloo (not that I’ve ever been in an igloo you understand, but it’s how I imagine it would be.) It’s dimly lit inside and takes a minute for your eyes to focus, rather embarrassingly we walked in clinging to the walls to avoid falling over. The bar itself is an intimate space with only a limited number of people able to sit there at any one time. The whole area is covered in yet more sketches. The bar is in the centre of the room and is sunk into the ground, all adding to the quirkiness.
Like brave explorers, we left the safety of our little igloo and ventured on into a wild woodland, also known as Glade bar, for yet more cocktails. Happiest in our natural habitat we stayed there for several hours taking in the enchanted fairytale forest. Mirrors rotate around the room to give you an ever changing view. At least I think (and hope!) they were rotating, it could have just been the cocktails!
Sketch opened in 2003 and, despite many critics claiming it was too gimmicky and wouldn’t last, it has stood the test of time, constantly reinventing itself by featuring different artists. Apparently the décor in the Gallery is transformed by a new artist every two years - though I understand that the current set-up has been so popular that there are no immediate plans to renovate.
It’s not surprising that only two years after opening Sketch was voted as the 18th best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine. I absolutely love the concept and wish there was something similar closer to home. It’s not cheap by any means, the Champagne Afternoon Tea costs £57.00 per person, but it is definitely worth a visit.
I’m pleased to have ticked the afternoon tea off my list but unfortunately I now have several new places to try, starting with the Lecture Room, then the Parlour, a meal in Glade, a return trip to the Gallery…..