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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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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