Meanwhile, the whole venue is a riot of colour and an onslaught to the senses. Neon lights, sculptures, crystals and mirrors, rooms splashed with reds, oranges and violets: don't even think of coming here feeling quesy. But as tempted as you are to recoil at such outrageousness, it is so far removed from the identikit beige of so many London wannabe Michelins that the bold originality simultaneously charms you as it repels, or at least appeals to your inner middle class rebel.
And then of course there's the name: Pierre Gagnaire. His eponymous restaurant in Paris is ranked 13th best in the world so it sets you up for two things. First, a meal or world class proportions, and second, a bill to match. One of these seems guaranteed.
This isn't the first time I've been to Sketch and I remember the last occasional well as it sat in close proximity to a visit to Gordon Ramsay at Hospital Road (read a later review of RGR here). While RGR had delivered a technically better meal, it had also delivered a substantially blander meal. Sketch had made some mistakes in their meal, at times, not quite reaching what they aspired to but the very fact they aspired to something more was to their credit and the errors were duly forgiven as you sided with a kitchen on an ambitious culinary quest.
Indeed, one can't help but feel that Gagnaire must be a little miffed with the way things turned out, not least that Sketch got it's first Michelin star but then refused to budge any further. The opulence of the place, the level of service and again that price tag, it's screaming of a restaurant in waiting for better things but at the same time, it's been so long coming that you know it's never coming. Sketch is what it is and as far as the men from Michelin are concerned, that's one star. It's hard to know whether to agree or disagree with this, one almost feels that Sketch needs its own category so there would be one star, two star, three star and Sketch, separate and outside of normal parameters.
We have to return back to the prices though for it would otherwise be like talking about the The Empire State Building without mentioning that it was a tall building with a rather good view from the top. Starters come in at around £40. The famous Langoustines (addressed in five ways) is a whopping £46. Fillet of beef for the main is £58. These are prices of Waterside Inn proportions but at least The Waterside has the three stars to justify it. Gagnaire's proposition is clearly that Michelin can go do a rude act on themselves and that this is a meal worth paying for because these dishes (effectively) come out of a kitchen-restaurant in Paris that is rated 13th in the world.
Like The Waterside Inn though, the 'cheap' (I know, ha ha) way to eat at Sketch is the tasting menu which at £95 for seven courses is something of a bargain. So we embarked, though not before several amuse bouche dishes with cuttle fish and sea bass and other things.
The foie gras and skate made an interesting combination though the skate required a bit of work to pull apart; it was though an interesting and original dish. The lamb meanwhile was excellent and worked well with the artichoke and pearl barley. Oysters and black truffles is as it says and imparted to you its quality. All good here then.
Both the lobster though and the scallop suffered from being over cooked giving both an element of tough and chewy. We debated too whether the bisque sauce for the lobster was necessary though without it, the dish would have, in my opinion, really run the risk of being quite bland. There was overall a lack of greatness which at these prices leaves you feeling a little cheated. You even start to wonder whether Michelin have actually got it right.
Dessert is labelled 'Pierre Gagnaire's Grand Dessert' which is a combination of five plates but which in my mind and mouth never really excelled so possessing little of the Grand about them. Rather than five plates, one exceptional plate would have been preferred and that seems a little bit like the story of the meal overall. It's very busy generally which is in one sense intriguing but still leaves you wanting to swap the measure of plates for a single moment of greatness. Sadly, it never quite comes.
But the food isn't bland and they take more risks than most and that's to be applauded. If it weren't so damn expensive, you might care a lot less that not all those risks pay off. It was fun, I was excited to go and pleased that I had returned and will in due course go back. Diversity should always be welcomed not condemned and there really is nowhere else like Sketch. However, it comes down to the same single issue: running at the same price point as somewhere like The Waterside Inn, can it hold its own on the quality of food they present? The answer is sadly not.
If you're feeling playful one day, go to Sketch. If you're feeling particularly flush one day and feel a desperate need to spend it, go to Sketch. And if you get tired of restaurant beige and want something lively beyond belief, Sketch again is the answer. If you are not however feeling playful, flush of money and looking for avant garde design, but instead, want the best food at the best price, you will have to strike Sketch from your list. So as the expression goes, 'you pays your money, you takes your choice'.
Return to homepage