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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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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Tom Aikens – Where has the magic gone?

Could not resist the toptable deal of £49 for a 5 course lunch with champagne and petit fours at Tom Aikens.

They are also doing a free corkage deal this month too, but as they only allow one promotion at a time,  it did not apply to our lunch option. The normal corkage fee of £30 a bottle would be charged. So we decided to leave our bottles at home on this occasion.  Ironically the corkage deal would have been the better one, as the normal lunch tasting menu is £49. So the deal was really just a free glass of champagne.

The sparkle does now seem to be missing from Tom Aikens, there were no stand out dishes at all.  The salmon and grapefruit dish worked but the fois gras was just lost in an overdose of blackcurrent.  The main course of lamb was too simple and a tiny portion (when I compare this to the lamb cuts I had on my first visit to Tom Aikens a few years ago, then there is no comparison).  There was a good cheese course and the chocolate dessert although complex was not very exciting. We finished with some basic petit fours –  the spectacular ones are saved for the evenings these days.

On the plus side the bread basket is still one of the best around – offering at least 6 different bread selections.

On the wine front, we ordered a rather disappointing bottle of Mt Beautiful Pinor Noir 2007 at £29.

In conclusion, I am sorry to say that in my view Tom Aikens has lost its magic, as reflected in the marks below.

Marks out of 10

Food 5.9

Service 6.5

Ambience 6

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UPDATE : March 2012 – The Restaurant has had a major revamp – see Matthew Forts post for details

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What’s coming in September.

More posts on top London destination restaurants this month, including

and lots more posts from our Australian correspondent, covering some interesting venues down under including a couple of the fine dining restaurants in Orange NSW, an area known for its Restaurants, Vineyards and Farmers Markets.

Berowra Waters Inn

This is the first post from our “Australian correspondent”. A foodie friend who has emigrated to warmer climes. The subject is Berowra Waters Inn an amazing venue reachable by seaplane.

Berowra Waters Inn – High Flyer or Car Crash?
Berowra Waters Inn is uniquely located in the the stunning Hawkesbury River, and is only accessible by “seaplane, boat or the restaurant’s own private ferry”. Originally opened by  Tony and Gay Bilson,  and recently re-opened by Dietmar Sawyer,  the restaurant is frequented by both epicures, and those celebrating special occasions. It was just such a special occasion, my birthday,  that took us to Berowra. We chose to arrive in style by seaplane from Rose Bay, a high flying start to the day! Our original delight at the restaurant’s location, and our wonderful window seat, grew to dismay at the simply shocking service.  Menus were slow to arrive, as was the taking of our orders. Having placed our order for 6 courses, one couldn’t help but begin to wonder when we might see the first one! An hour and a half after sitting down, we only had one course, by which point we were simply starving! After sharp words, and a call to our pilot to delay our return, our next 3 courses arrived in rapid succession! And what amazing courses they were!
The food at Berowra is simply exquisite, world class. I was blown away by the Langoustine Pastilla and Wagyu Beef dishes. Food quality was on par with some of my favourite London Michelin Starred restaurants, such as Tom Aikens and Foliage. In light of this, we think we might forgive Berowra Waters it’s awful service, and will certainly be back for another visit!

Marks out of 10

Food 8.4

Service 3.9

Ambience 8.5

 

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The Square – indulgence dilemma

Saturday night at The Square, what an indulgence!

We started in the bar area with some delicious canapes and a glass of the house champagne then moved to our table where we had the dilemma, do we go for the tasting menu or do we go À la carte? Tough one.


There were so many lovely sounding starters on the À la carte, we were pushed in that direction. Which was actually a mistake, as we have effectively trained ourselves to appreciate the smaller portions and broader taste range of tasting menus. So the larger portions for the mains were a bit of a struggle. The other plus for going the tasting menu route is if one course is not so great then it’s not such a big deal, as it effectively gets lost in the crowd.

Two of us made main course choices that really showed off The Squares cuisine.  I had the Roast Saddle of Lincolnshire Hare with a Tarte Fine of Celeriac and Pear which was amazing and one of my companions had the Fillet of Aged Ayrshire Beef with Autumn Truffle, Smoked Bone Marrow and Red Wine, again stunning but too large a portion.  My other companion choose the Caramelised Pork Belly with Glazed Trotter, Savoy Cabbage, Langoustine Claws and Lentils and was very disappointed, as the Pork Belly was very fatty. Which was such as shame as up until that point everything had been sublime.

The pre dessert was a rather nice  doughnut and rhubarb/raspberry concoction. Then for dessert I had a very boozy Rum and Raisin Soufflé with Gingerbread Ice Cream – stunning.  To finish we then had coffee and some Armagnac.  This was served with a nicely balanced selection of petits fours that consisted of some chocolate/nutty/Carmel truffles and a range of lollipop style sweets.  We finished them all. Only to have a second set delivered later.

The Square like Hibiscus has 2 Michelin stars and 4 AA Rosettes, but from the point of view of imagination and food quality based on our visits to both these restaurants, the Square is streets ahead of Hibiscus. However when we directly compared it to Tom Aikens which has 1 Michelin star and 5 AA Rosettes, the conclusion was that Tom Aikens pipped The Square at the post.

Marks out of 10

Food 7.8

Service 7.6

Ambience 7

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