Sketch – in a world of its own

A visit to Sketch is certainly an interesting and rather OTT experience.  I felt rather like a kid with a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  As you enter the building you have the Parlour on your right, where you can order an indulgent Breakfast, Afternoon Tea, Comfort food and Cocktails.  The rather low key Parlour is in stark contrast to Pierre Gagnaire’s Michelin stared restaurant in the Lecture Room. The name of the restaurant does not really conjure up what is revealed after you are escorted up the exotically lit staircase. The doors are dramatically thrown open and you find yourself in a jewel box like room, decorated with a red, orange, blue and gold palette.

My companion had brought his camera but had forgotten his SD card, so was annoyed that in such a photogenic environment we were not going to do the place justice, but by using our phones we managed to get a few shots of the experience.

The first hurdle is the Champagne Trolley, something I am not a fan off. If I want a glass I prefer to check the wine list first to make sure I know what I am getting, so we just stuck to tap water while we made our menu selection. Despite the hefty prices you can still go down the less expensive route by ordering from the Gourmet Rapide Menu.  However as we wanted to get the full experience on our first visit we opted for the regular Tasting Menu (it is expensive, but as you will see from this post – you do get a lot for your money) and asked the Sommelier to recommend a bottle of wine that would suit the whole menu. He selected a reasonably priced bottle of Irouleguy, Xuri d’Ansa 2004 that was drinkable both on its own and as an accompaniment to the food.

Next came the bread, served with some rather spectacular tasting seaweed butter. Then the feast began.   We had a wonderful array of beautifully presented dishes served by Sketches very efficient staff.  Ironically though the presentation and service did eclipse the food a bit.  The food was very good, don’t get me wrong.  The Foie Gras Terrine with Mackerel Bouillon and Clams was an excellent start.  The Marinated Stone Bass, Peas, Spring Cabbage, Mint and
Smoked Lardons was quite lovely, nice flavour combinations and textures.  The huge King Scallop served with Nettle Cream, Haddock, Watercress Salad, Seaweed Butter and Rhubarb was fabulous. One of these could have been turned into a dozen servings at Apsleys (who served up scallop slivers rather than the more generous presentation delivered by Sketch) and the other dishes were enjoyable too. They just didn’t quite meet our expectations, which were perhaps a little too high, due to the rather excessive hype that Sketch gets.  We found ourselves inevitably making comparisons with meals we had in other restaurants. It wasn’t in the same class as Le Bristol in Paris (although the menu was very similar to the one we had there a few years back – especially the lobster and sweet bread dishes).  Moments at the Mandarin in Barcelona had the edge on food presentation and taste.  The Ledbury, The Kitchin and Tom Aikens (at his peak) also won on the flavour front.

This was a tasting menu that definitely filled you up though, we were getting full even before we started on the Grand Dessert which consists of no less than five desserts and a selection of petit fours. However sometimes less is more and I think I would have preferred just a couple of spectacular desserts, rather than five OK ones.  That said, it was still discernibly better than a lot of Michelin starred restaurants out there, and as such I would have no qualms about recommending the Sketch experience, and that’s even without having had the full tour of the premises – we didn’t get the chance to visit the Glade, the Gallery or the East Bar as Blackberry had reserved the rest of Sketch for a product launch, so there was a bit of a buzz around that, as Jessie J was providing the music.

UPDATE : September 2012, Sketch has been awarded a second Michelin Star.

UPDATE : October 2019, Sketch has been awarded a third Michelin Star.

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Michelin Star list for 2010

The new Michelin star listings came out this month, see:-

Glad to see that Le Bristol retained its 3 stars, see post:-

But  there were a couple of surprises there too:-

Surprised that L’Astrance and Hibiscus kept all their stars, both are over rated in my view, see posts:-

Surprised that El Celler De Can Roca got promoted to a 3 star, see post:-

Shocked that Parc des Eaux Vives lost its stars – not that the food has gone down hill, see post

It is just that this wonderful restaurant is closed.  So glad we had the chance to experience it twice.

For more on the Michelin star system see post:-

Michelin Stars v AA Rosettes – Ding Ding!

No Expert has just hit the 100th post mark, so for that milestone rather than single out a restaurant, this post focuses on an issue that impacted on a number of our restaurant choices and that is can we trust Michelin Star and AA Rosette ratings alone.

I know there is a lot of debate over how accurate the Michelin star rating system is. I believe we have been to enough Michelin starred restaurants to give an opinion on the subject. Basically the  problems seem to be inconsistency and big name restaurants hanging on to stars they no longer merit. The Michelin star rating seems to be about as reliable as the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, i.e., not reliable at all.

The rating system definition for Michelin stars is:-

  • 1 star – A very good restaurant in its category
  • 2 stars – Excellent cooking, worth a detour
  • 3 stars – Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey

For more information see Michelin Guide

We have been to some 3 star and 2 star Michelin restaurants that are not in the same class as 1 star restaurants.  Compare Tom Aikens to The Waterside Inn for example.

The 5 AA Rosettes award however does seem to match our tastes. The ones on the list in England for example are among our all time favorite restaurants.

The rating system definition for 5 AA Rosettes :-

  • The supreme accolade awarded only when the cooking is at the pinnacle of achievement. Flavours, combinations and textures show a faultless sense of balance, giving each dish an extra dimension.

The rating system definition for 4 AA Rosettes :-

  • At this level, not only should all technical skills be exemplary, but there should also be daring ideas, and they must work. There is no room for disappointment. Flavours should be accurate and vibrant.

Then just when I thought I could maybe rely on the AA Rosettes I find out that one of our worst of the worst restaurants Harveys of Ramsgate has just been awarded one AA Rosette, and that another of our least favorite places Abode in Canterbury has 2.

The rating system definition for 1 AA Rosette :-

  • Chefs should display a mastery of basic techniques and be able to produce dishes of sound quality and clarity of flavours, using good, fresh ingredients.

The rating system definition for 2 AA Rosettes :-

  • Innovation, greater technical skill and more consistency and judgement in combining and balancing ingredients are all needed at this level

Our experience of Harveys of Ramsgate and Abode indicated that they were sadly lacking in several of the areas associated with the definitions.

For more information see:-

The conclusion is that research is essential before you  commit to the really expensive dining experiences in the high end restaurants.

  • Check out the food blogs.
  • Check out Hardens and Zagat.
  • Look for real customer reviews via Google Maps.
  • Be really wary of the hype.
  • Be wary of Celebrity Chef endorsements.

Click here to access our prefered Food Blog/Site list.

  • It is also worth trying one of the restaurants deals first, e.g., a pre-theatre or set lunch deal.  It is surprising just how many of the top restaurants do offer less expensive options. The toptable web site is a good place to start to find these deals.

The Waterside Inn – old fashioned comfort

I found the food at  The Waterside Inn in Bray to be quite conventional, fairly typical french haute cuisine. I have to admit I expected a lot more from a 3 star Michelin – I suspect at least 1 star applied to the location.

It was also a bit of a struggle to find a reasonably priced bottle of Champagne – the wine list was a bit daunting. That said it was a lovely day out. The Waterside Inn is a very comfortable venue. We made our selves at home, spending hours out on the terrace after lunch drinking brandy that was older than we were, and indulging in a little too much PX.

Here is a short video about The Waterside Inn:-

 

LOCATION INFORMATION
Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – Berkshire, UK

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El Celler De Can Roca – numbers do lie!

The S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list rates El Celler De Can Roca as number 5, not that the place is bad, far from it. It is just that I haven’t been to all the best restaurants in the world yet, and this one already is not in my top 5.  Actually I should have know better than trust this list, as last year I visited number 11 L’Astrance in Paris, again not bad – but not really worth in my view the acolades it receives. Plus this year Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea did not even make the top 100, and that is most definately in my top 10.

El Celler De Can Roca is out in the suburbs of Girona, so about 1 hour on the train from Barcelona, then a 10-15 minute taxi ride.  It is a very stylish venue, and they had some nice touches, the one I especially approved off, was the complimentary Cava and water (not that we did not really pay for it in the bill – as El Celler De Can Roca is not cheap). This is a much nicer approach than staff pushing you to buy a glass of overpriced Champagne before your meal (one of my pet hates).

An easier alternative in the Roca Brothers empire, is to just stay in Barcelona and go to their restaurant at Hotel Omm , Moo.

UPDATE: March 2010 – El Celler De Can Roca, was awarded its third Michelin star this year.

UPDATE: April 2010 –  El Celler De Can Roca is now at number 4 on the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

UPDATE: April 2013 –  El Celler De Can Roca is now number 1 on the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list.

Sant Pau, Sant Pol de Mer – a breath of fresh air

To get out of the city for a day, we went to Carme Ruscelleda’s restaurant in Sant Pol de Mer (about 40 minutes on the RENFE train from Barcelona).

 

 

 

 

Interesting location overlooking the sea and the train station.

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Very good, beautiful and amusingly presented food.

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There is also  a rather interesting shrine on the way out, see if you can spot the tribute to the Michelin Man.

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Looking forward to Spains top-ranked female chef opening an outpost in the not too distant future at the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona.

 

UPDATE – Closed