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.

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The Ledbury – More or Less?

We started off the new year on a high, with lunch at The Ledbury.   There were two  menu options. The special lunch Menu at £45 or the Tasting Menu at £75, both available with matching wine.  Such a tough choice, but it was The Ledbury and we just had to go down the “More” route.   We had matching wines for each course (including a matching wine for the amuse bouche) making a total of 8 glasses each (I think).  Pretty heavy for lunch time drinking I have to say. In retrospect the “Less” route might have been the more sensible choice.

We found the restaurant to be rather quiet on this visit, only a few tables were in use during our mid week lunch. So if you pick your day carefully it is possible to get a reservation at this temple of gastronomy.

We started with Chantilly of Colchester Oysters with a Tartare of Scallop and Oyster, Horseradish and Dill – a very elegant dish, this was followed by Flame Grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Celtic Mustard and Shiso. Then we had Hampshire Buffalo Milk Curd with Saint-Nectaire and Truffle Toast. The Truffle Toast was the highlight for me, delicious. We were four glasses down at this point when we moved on to the fish course of Roast Native Lobster with Broccoli stem, Natural Yogurt and Indian Spices in Brown Butter. This was followed by Pork Cheek cooked in Pedro Ximénez with Puffed Grains and Spiced Cream and Roast Haunch of Fallow Deer with White Beetroot and Smoked Bone Marrow and several more glasses of well matched wines. We finished with a light pre-dessert and the dessert of Pavé of Chocolate with Milk Purée and Lovage Ice Cream.

The food was universally good, we just felt that we had over done it.  I am always happy to go to The Ledbury but I think next time I will stick to the set lunch.

One tip though, if you do want to go down the Tasting Menu route,  is to do it at lunch time – the Tasting Menu is £30 cheaper then than the one offered in the evening.

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Chez Bruce – Mmm…mmm…mmm

I made our reservation at Chez Bruce at fairly short notice, so our table was probably one of the worst ones in the room. However I was just glad to have a table as even at Monday lunch time Chez Bruce was close to full.

Yet again they did not put a foot wrong on the service front or with the food.  All through the meal we could hear ourselves continually making “mmm” noises, which says it all.  The food is seriously good, well balanced complex dishes that look beautiful and taste wonderful.

My raw, cooked and pickled vegetable tartlet with aubergine and tapenade, was amazing – it was so light and the mixture of textures and flavours worked so well.  My companion also really enjoyed his Pork Belly with Summer Bean Salad, Chorizo and Salsa Verde.

For main course I had the Plaice with creme fraiche and basil sauce, smoked salmon, pancakes and cucumber – the pancakes especially were really moreish. My companion had the Seabass with  prawn tempura, oriental squid and bok choy salad and was really impressed by the flavour of the fish and its distinctive sweet and sour pork crust.

We then moved on to share a cheese plate – the cheese boards in the Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants are too good to miss. We then finished with the Vanilla, Almond and Raspberry tartlet and the Warm Poached Peach and Financier with Pannacotta and Ameretto, along with a couple of glasses of matching dessert wines. Leaving just enough room for a piece of the home made shortbread provided at the end of the meal.

We had a conversation with one of the waiters about Chez Bruces sibling restaurant The Ledbury, which he thought was on the way to its third Michelin Star and if that’s the case, Chez Bruce is well on its way to a second one, as the gap between them is not huge.

Chez Bruce is not just a destination restaurant, it’s a restaurant that makes you want to move to the area. Although in actual fact it’s not that hard to get to, as it’s just 2 minutes walk from Wandsworth Common train station, and there are frequent trains from Victoria with a journey time of 11 minutes.

Marks out of 10

Food 8.2

Service 7.9

Ambience 7.5

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La Trompette – treating ourselves in Chiswick

Made a return visit after a gap of a couple of years to La Trompette in Chiswick.  The area was livelier than I remembered, lots more interesting shops and restaurants.

The weather was good so the full length windows were open to effectively extend the restaurant into the outside space.

We had a very relaxing meal, with good food and friendly service in very pleasant surroundings. This is very much the sort of place where you can enjoy indulging in the wine list and taking your time over the cheese board.

Out of all the Nigel Platts-Martins restaurants we have been too, this one is actually our least favorite, not that there is anything wrong with it. It is still a very good restaurant, it’s just that  The Glasshouse, Chez Bruce and The Ledbury are better. So if you are in the area this would be a real treat, but I still prefer to make the trip out to Wandsworth for Chez Bruce or Notting Hill for The Ledbury.

Marks out of 10

Food 6.9

Service  7

Ambience 7

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UPDATE: April 2013 – La Trompette has been refurbished since our last visit, it now has a more spacious dining room, private dining facilities and a new kitchen. There is also a new Head Chef – Rob Weston.

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Bistro Bruno Loubet @ The Zetter

Bruno Loubet’s restaurant at The Zetter has had some excellent reviews. Indeed it was voted 3rd Best Restaurant in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards, just behind The Ledbury and The Fat Duck.  That seemed a bit odd to me I have to admit, as this is a very different type of restaurant to the fine dining establishments I have just mentioned.  Bistro Bruno Loubets is a “proper” bistro that serves good homely french food. It’s not fine dining, nor is it trying to be.

We visited on a Monday lunch time and were on the whole surrounded by affluent dinners enjoying business lunches.   The tables are very close together, so you can not help but overhear conversations. I picked up a least one investment tip 😉

The staff are friendly and efficient, you could probably even manage a one hour turn around if you needed to here.

For starters I had a snails, meatballs and mushroom dish, a bit wintry for the lovely spring weather, but very tasty all the same. My companion had the Beetroot ravioli, which was lighter and more suited to the climate, it was accompanied by a fresh rocket salad. For main course he ordered the braised oxtail stuffed with cabbage and I had roast rabbit crumbed with almond and “forgotten” winter vegetables, that included atomic red carrots and some type of root vegetable I did not recognise.

We moved on to dessert, I had a very light Tarte Tatin with cinnamon ice cream and my companion ordered the white chocolate and passion fruit mousse with raspberry sauce. We accompanied this with a small and reasonably priced bottle of Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure 2007.

We then went on to explore the surrounding area.  In the same square you have The Modern Pantry which  looked inviting and the rather interesting building opposite is the Priory Church of St John which is part of the Museum of the order of St Johns.  The Zetter has also expanded into the square with its sister venue The Zetter Town House. which has a small rather quirky cocktail bar.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6.5

Ambience 5.8

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Kitchen W8 – a perfectly pleasant Sunday Lunch

Kitchen W8 is Phillip Howards restaurant in Kensington, it was recently awarded a Michelin star.

Phillip Howard is Nigel Platts-Martins partner at The Square, so my expectations were high.

I have to admit it did not have the WOW factor of The Ledbury or The Square or even Chez Bruce, but it was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday lunch time.  The set Sunday lunch at  £25 a head  is not particularly adventurous, but what they do, they do well. My Whitebait starter had maybe a bit too much batter for some tastes, but was fresh, tasty and not in the least bit greasy. The potted pork rillette was a bit ordinary but fine for a set lunch. The mains were well received. The mash served with my well cooked haddock was particularly good.

The Bitter chocolate pudding  matched with PX sherry was a triumph (I should have photographed the empty plates!)

All in all, it was a perfectly pleasant way to spend a Sunday lunch time.

They were also pushing an excellent BYOB deal (no corkage fee on a Sunday evening), something that I do hope more and more fine dining restaurants take up, see Guardian article covering this trend.

Marks out of 10

Food 6

Service 6.3

Ambience 6

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Chez Bruce – better late than never!

We finally got around to trying out Chez Bruce in Wandsworth.  So many people had raved about it over the years. In fact it was first recommended to me about 15 years ago when I lived in the area.  Isn’t it annoying when other people are right, I really wish I had listened and started eating there then.  I might have better fitted into the age group of the clientele too, who are typically 30 somethings.

The food which is often described as Modern British,  actually has lots of different influences, French, Italian and Nordic.

To start my companion had the Gravadlax and beetroot club sandwich with herring salade lyonaise and horseradish, which was sublime.  It definitely gets his vote for best starter of the year.  I  had the middle white pork terrine with warm potato salad and sauce gribiche which was also excellent. We accompanied these dishes with a carafe of rather stunning Pouilly Fuisse wine.

For main course my companion had the beautifully moist and tender venison loin with potato rosti and squash puree.  A wonderful dish.

My Shetland salmon and scallops with Jerusalem artichoke puree, gnocchi, prosciutto and chaterelles, worked well combining fish and meat flavours beautifully.

As you can tell from all the superlatives I have used so far we really rated this place.  It became our post Christmas treat, actually eclipsing Koffmanns, which is saying something.

Chez Bruce is very relaxing and not somewhere you would want to rush, so we extended our meal by having a cheese course matched with a lovely glass of chilled Rasteau 2007, Domaine De Trapadis, before “resting” and continuing on to dessert.  For dessert we focused on the lighter dishes.  The  beautiful poached pear with honey and stem ginger ice cream and the prune and armagnac ice cream, accompanied by a refreshing glass of Muscat d’Asti.

We had no room for coffee and truffles, but did manage to squeeze in a small piece of shortbread, offered at the end of meal. Best shortbread I have ever had, with a hint of caramel, it was quite lovely.

We then asked for the bill, expecting it to be excessive as we had rather indulged ourselves. We were pleasantly surprised at how reasonable it was.

Chez Bruce is a part of Nigel Platts-Martins stable of restaurants.  Holding its own against it’s sibling restaurants which include The Square, The Ledbury, La Trompette and The Glasshouse.  Nothing jars here (not even the bread), the food, the service levels and the atmosphere seem just right.  I certainly won’t be waiting another 15 years to return.

Marks out of 10

Food 8.2

Service 7.5

Ambience 7.9

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Koffmanns – Pigs trotters and french fries!

We chose Koffmans as our post Christmas treat.  Pierre Koffmann ran the legendary 3 Michelin star La Tante Claire restaurant at The Berkeley until  2003, when he left to ‘go fishing’.  He is now very much back on the London food scene, and back at The Berkeley.

Our first impression on entering the restaurant proper was a good one, although the stairs that take you down to the basement dining room, past the small bar area, are an accident waiting to happen.

Koffmann’s signature dishes include scallops with squid ink, braised pig’s trotter with morels, and pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream. So off course we made sure we ordered them. Indeed the waiter actually made a point of saying ‘and I presume you would like to order the Pigs Trotters’ – maybe the camera on the table gave it away.

We started with a tasty amuse bouche of rabbit paté, followed by a leak terrine with smoked haddock and the aforementioned scallops.  Then for main course as well as the trotter stuffed with sweet breads, we had the beef cheeks. Both dishes were served with lovely mashed potatoes and a winter vegetable selection of broccoli, red cabbage and also what I can only describe as a completely superfluous order of french fries. Perhaps they were included to give us something to criticize? Certainly there was nothing much to complain about with the rest of the meal, and it still seems strange to say it, but the vegetables in particular were a standout, so much flavour. The Beef cheeks portion was large, but so light that finishing it was not a problem.  Never having tried Pigs Trotters before,  Koffmanns was definitely the best place to start.  I’m not entirely sure what we expected, but having almost the full pigs leg complete with hoof on the plate was a  bit disconcerting, but proved to be delicious.  Pork crackling is not a personal favourite, due to earlier experiences where it has been more akin to chewing on a giants toenail. However this was not the case here as it was light, wafer thin and very, very tasty.

For dessert the pistachio soufflé with pistachio ice cream was quite stunning, on a par with the soufflé I tasted at The Ledbury a few weeks ago. The pear and almond tart however was really nothing special, although the pear sorbet that accompanied it was divine (a larger portion would have been nice).

We have always found that asking the Sommelier to match a glass of wine to each course makes the meal more interesting and as the wines by the glass were of a reasonable price (they ranged from £6 to £15) we knew we would not be too horrified by the final bill.

It is also always interesting to see where other chefs choose to eat in their own time. Gary Rhodes for example sat a few tables away from us, tucking into his pistachio soufflé.

Chefs who have worked in Pierre Koffmanns kitchen over the years include Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Eric Chavot, Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. Having eaten food produced by all of the above, we could certainly see Koffmanns influence.

Marks out of 10

Food 8

Service 7

Ambience 7.9

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Now that we have got Christmas out of the way, we are looking forward to starting the real celebrations with a post Christmas restaurant binge.   Over the course of the next two weeks we will be dining at two of our absolute favorite restaurants Chez Bruce and The Ledbury.  We also have lunch plans at two locations that could not be more different The Ritz and The Modern Pantry.

We will also be announcing our best and worst restaurants of the year. Watch this space.

 

The Ledbury – embarassing leaks

Lunch at The Ledbury was always going to be an occasion. The food is superb.  I simply could not fault any of the dishes I chose from their Sunday Lunch menu.  Indeed it was one of these occasions where I really wanted to try nearly all the dishes on the menu.  Fortunately I was part of a large enough group to ensure that collectively we were able to order a range of different dishes. There were no dissenting voices at all, every one loved the food.  Only one thing went wrong during the lunch, which impacted on the table next to ours.  Water started coming through the ceiling from the room above,  I guess a burst pipe due to the cold weather. Nothing much the restaurant could do except, put a bowl on the table, call the plumber and move the guests to another table.  However it must have been very embarrassing for the staff, as the guests concerned included Martin Scorsese, Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher who certainly did not seem to particularly want to draw attention to themselves. Something that is hard to do when you have to stand up to avoid being splashed!

However when the food is this good, you do not let little things like plumbing problems get in the way, so back to the food.

My starter was the Flamed Grilled Mackerel with Smoked Eel, Tokyo Turnips and Celtic Mustard, it was a great choice. The Mackerel had so much flavour, it was really fresh and just melted in my mouth. The portion was quite substantial for a starter, but despite that I could easily have had seconds.

I was also tempted by the Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Seaweed and Herb Dill Kohlrabi and Frozen Horseradish which one of my companions ordered. Visually it did not look as good, but I was told it was delicious, if a little light and summery for a winter menu.

For my main course I choose fish again. The Skate Poached in Brown Butter with Truffle Puree, Cauliflower, Parmesan Gnocchi and Sea Vegetables. This has to be my dish of the year. It was just so moreish. The Skate was perfect and the Parmesan Gnocchi reminded me so much of another favourite, the Gnocchi dish I had at The Foliage.

For dessert I ordered the Brown Sugar Tart with Muscat Grapes and Stem Ginger Ice Cream, which was matched with a surprisingly fruity Pedro Ximenez sherry from Barossa Valley in Australia, it was very different from the Spanish ones I have had in the past.  The tart was very light and the ice cream was very subtle.  The dessert highlight however had to be the Passion Fruit Souffle with Sauterne Ice cream, which was large enough for us all to try  – a perfect Souffle.

 

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What’s coming next in the lead up to Christmas?

It is always a bit more difficult at this time of year – a bit harder to get bookings if you want to avoid the Christmas rip off menus and holiday shut downs.

So despite the seasonal difficulties we have posts coming up for a couple of really hot top London destination restaurants:-

  • The Ledbury – which just seems to be winning more and more awards and acclaim this year.
  • Koffmann’s – need I say more, the mans a legend.

We are also going to Chez Bruce, a restaurant that has been top of our wish list for a while now.

Then we are starting off the New Year on a high note (hopefully), at Apsleys in the Lanesborough Hotel. It was awarded a Michelin star earlier this year. It is a Heinz Becks Restaurant, the first one outside Italy, where  he has 3 Michelin stars for La Pergola in Rome.

No Expert Annual Awards

The No Expert Best and Worst Restaurant for 2010 will be announced at the end of year.