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.

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – Simmer down and reduce your expectations

The new restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental may seat 140 guests, but getting one of these seats is not easy.  We reserved our table in January not long after the booking lines had opened and got the earliest table available, which was a 2.30 lunch sitting in March.  This meant we had been looking forward to “Dinner” for what seemed like ages.  Could it possibly live up to the hype or more importantly to my mind could it justify the loss of  The Foliage?

Interestingly there does seem to be a restaurant review pattern, in that the food bloggers are less wowed than the professional critics.  A pattern I am afraid we find ourselves following.  To be fair Heston in interviews has emphasised that Dinner is not trying to be a fine dining restaurant, it is not an outpost of  The Fat Duck.  The staff also made that very clear to us on our visit.  So we tried hard to adjust our expectations accordingly.

The kitchen is headed by Ashley Palmer-Watts who has worked with Heston at The Fat Duck for nine years in the capacity of Group Executive Chef.  “Dinner” (still hate the name) has unquestionably been the hottest opening this year, gathering an incredible amount of publicity and accolades.

During the summer months the terrace overlooking Hyde Park will  be used for al fresco dining and it may well take until the summer to get a reservation. The Restaurant is apparently fully booked  to the end of  June.  Reservations are even being offered as prizes and  being sold on ebay!

It was really nice to be greeted by the last two surviving members of the Foliage staff.  As a welcoming treat we were given a sample of the famous Meat Fruit, enabling us to effectively “tick the box” on that one.  It was a perfectly fine chicken liver parfait cleverly shaped like a Mandarin Orange in homage to the hotel.  I then ordered the Hay Smoked Mackerel starter with lemon salad, Gentlemen’s Relish and olive oil.  I found it to be a tasty and refreshing dish. For main course I chose the Pigeon, which was delicious, but in retrospect did not really justify the price which was actually more than the cost of the entire set menu. The standout dish for me was my dessert choice – no not the famous Tipsy cake with pineapple. I was a bit more adventurous. I went for the Brown Bread Ice-Cream, even though I had been warned and perhaps a little put off by it being described as having savoury elements.  It was unusual, but for me it really worked with the yeasty Ice-Cream contrasting well with the caramel sauce and oats. I found it really quite moreish.

My companion was less successful with his choices. He started with the Rice and Flesh which combined flavours that he did not particularly enjoy.  He also ordered the Powdered duck.  The meat was moist with subtle flavours but he did not like the contrasting hard fennel.   On the whole he felt that the historically inspired flavour combinations were a bit incongruous, sadly reminiscent of the cooking style at Oliver Peytons National Dining Room.

He then had what he described as the “Krispy Kreme” doughnut like Tipsy cake with spit roasted pineapple.  The Tipsy cake was OK but the smoky after taste from the pineapple chunks was less successful.

We finished the meal on a “high” note though with a small cup of Earl Grey ganache and some caraway biscuits.  This was rather playful in that it conjured up the taste of accidentally picking up and drinking a long discarded cup of cold tea – until the sugar rush kicked in!  This sweet treat seemed to be closer in concept to the type of food served at The Fat Duck than to Dinners historically inspired menu.

The restaurant with its £4 million make over looks good,  but not stunning. With that sort of money I expected this flag ship restaurant to have the same level of glamour as achieved by Moments at the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona for example.

It was also strange to find ourselves seated at the same table location as we had during our memorable last meal at the Foliage.  Maybe it was just a coincidence or perhaps it was  intentional, indicating the level of customer care the Mandarin is famous for.

After our late lunch we met up with some friends in the adjoining Mandarin bar for a quick drink that lasted about 6 hours! The cocktails were on the whole really enjoyable, served by the super efficient staff. One annoyance was that they no longer offer bar food,  just the room service menu  if you are a resident.  I suspect this is a side effect of losing the The Park Restaurant.

So in conclusion I have to say unfortunately Dinner is not somewhere that I would rush to return too. Indeed if in Knightsbridge, I would be more likely to make a return visit to Koffmans or perhaps even Bar Boulud. We have no doubt that these changes will bring financial and critical  success to the Mandarin Oriental and certainly getting Heston to open his first London Restaurant here is quite a coup, but from our perspective sadly we feel that the Mandarin has lost more than it has gained.

UPDATE : October 2011 : The 2012 Michelin Guide has unsurprisingly awarded Dinner a star.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.2

Service 7

Ambience  5.5

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

LOCATION INFORMATION

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Moments @ MO, Barcelona – Setting the standard

At long last we managed to have lunch at Moments restaurant. The delayed opening meant we missed the chance on our last visit to Barcelona.  We were pleasantly surprised by the  interior, as the Mandarin Oriental website does not do it justice. It is a beautiful room that is both stylish and comfortable.

We were greeted by a familiar face, Carlos formerly of the Foliage in London. One of our regular haunts. He presented us with a glass each of Carme Ruscelleda’s 20th anniversary Cava.  Without hesitation we decided on the tasting menu (125 euro’s ouch!) along with a lovely selection of wines by the glass.

The meal began with the famous Appetizers Micro Menu which consisted of four appetizers one for each season. We then had a very artistic dish based on “Miros Bird” the original which we understand hangs in Carme Ruscelleda’s restaurant in Tokyo.  This was followed by a very refreshing dish of cuttlefish and peas then a very moreish crayfish dish with morel cream. Next came an unusual but successful combination of flavours. Sea Bass with strawberry chutney.  There was a choice of main courses. Tuna Cheek or Iberian Pork. The Tuna cheek in particular was stunning.  We then moved on to the cheese course and two desserts simply named “Red” and “White”. We both agreed that the Red was our favourite as this was a standout dish and not just because it used popping candy!

We finished the meal with the Eight Pastry Divertimenti. A selection of Petit-fours presented on a three tier cake stand.

After the meal we were introduced to the head chef Raul Balam (Carme Ruscelleda’s son).  It’s always nice to be able to tell the chef how much we enjoyed the meal.

The restaurant is too new to have been awarded a Michelin star or should I say stars as it will undoubtedly pick up more than one in the not too distant future, it is certainly a rival to its 3 star sister restaurant Sant Pau in Sant Pol de Mer.

WARNING: Dining at Moments can seriously damage your appreciation of other restaurants. Every other restaurant, even ones you really rated start to look scruffy and unprofessional in comparison. The attention to detail at MO is second to none.

UPDATE December 2010 – Moments awarded a Michelin Star in the 2011 Michelin Guide. In my view they merit two. For more information, see :-

UPDATE November 2012 – Moments awarded their second Michelin Star. Saw that one coming!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.3

Service 8.2

Ambience 8.5

LOCATION INFORMATION
Browse Google Map© :- NoExpert Food Blog – Barcelona, Spain

Where to Eat and Drink – Barcelona

Barcelona has so many fabulous restaurants, but like many cities it also has lots that should be avoided. On our first visit many years ago now, we did no research and basically just went to places that were convenient and  looked OK. We have long since learned how dangerous that approach is. So if you are visiting Barcelona, here are a few recommendations to get you started.

Inexpensive

  • El Jardi – A refuge from the hustle and bustle.

Mid Range

High End

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