Cool girls go to London Fashion Week, hungry girls go to sketch. Read on for my new afternoon tea review, in which I explore the newly made-over sketch Gallery with David Shrigley’s new art display and London Fashion Week installations.
If you know me or read this blog you probably know I oscillate between the very Italian (“Pineapple pizza? GROSS!”) and the fake British (*pretends to speak in a British accent until the second pint of lager kicks in*). That’s because I grew up in Italy raised by a London-addict Italian mother, watching Notting Hill, Love Actually and all those British comedies which make you cringe but are cute to watch over Christmas. So it’s no wonder I’ve become quite partial to a fancy afternoon tea. I know, right. Bloody Italians, taking our jobs, drinking our afternoon tea. Go back to eating pastas in trattorias where you belong! Sue me.
I fell in love with sketch because I haven’t been living under a rock. If you read London-based media or are a review junkie, chances are you’ve come across the OTT pink gallery room in this gorgeous Mayfair restaurant. If you’ve visited once, chances are you will also want to go back.
What’s new at sketch
I tried the sketch afternoon tea a few years back, but the Mayfair tea room as had a lot going on since I first visited. The artwork displayed in The Gallery has had a complete make-over, with Turner prize nominated artist David Shrigley creating a variety of hilarious sketches that cover the venue’s walls. Having already transformed the space in 2014 with 239 new works, Shrigley came back to sketch switching some of the original black and white drawings with 91 new colourful ones. Now, I’m not an art critic, but I am a journalism BA currently researching on crime and the media, so this display was a real treat. Aside from sassy, witty sketches (the “Rights for Goths” warmed my black metal heart), the display also jokes on news headlines and everyday situations in our media-obsessed society.
As if this weren’t enough, last weekend sketch celebrated the London Fashion Week by reimagining its famous egg pod toilet through an installation featuring the miniature couture bag designed by Maison Cruz Bueno Couture.
We started our evening with a glass of Pommery Brut rosé champagne. Then the lovely sketch team had us taste their own signature cocktail, blending champagne with an Earl Grey infusion. The cocktail had everything you expect from champagne – delicacy, freshness, zing – but managed to blend it with the smokiness and spice of traditional Earl Grey. If you’re wondering about our verdict on the drinks, all I have to say is that mum doesn’t drink AT ALL, yet she made an exception.
Although the space is striking and stunning, the food at sketch equally commands attention. The opening of our afternoon tea experience featured a French twist on a British classic: the Eggs & Soldiers, served by a very dapper gentleman in a baby pink fedora and suit carrying a caviar pot. We were instructed to have a spoonful of caviar first, to then dip the focaccia sticks into the quail egg yolk and comté cheese egg pot. The dish was as delicate as it looked, the cheese giving the egg yolk a barely perceptible kick.
After the ouverture came the main act: the sandwich and cake tray. Now, let’s get real: if you’re a sweet tooth like me, chances are you ain’t gonna care about the sandwiches. At sketch however, that wasn’t the case. Every sandwich was incredibly thought-through, bring the idea of finger sandwiches to the next level.
Our favourite was probably the Igor, a rye bread sandwich with tomato chutney, lettuce and mayonnaise… but it was a tough pick. The Scottish smoked salmon and Jacob’s cream finger sandwich was equally delicate, served in a focaccia-style bread as opposed to the traditional toast. The egg mayo sandwich, too, came with a tiny duck egg on top for an extra cute factor and house-made mayo inside.
And now we come to the afternoon tea cakes. A word of warning: these cakes are dangerous. Too often all it takes is a couple of bites for you to have to give up. Sometimes they’re overly creamy, other times too sugary. At sketch you will never want to stop, so give up on your diet already. We started with a melt-in-your-mouth caramel and blackcurrant pink macaron, followed by the Malabar marshmallow made with French bubblegum.
The Yorkshire rhubarb and raspberry cheesecake, which we initially mistook for a parfait, was fresh and indulgent thanks to the cake crumble on top. The vanilla and hibiscus opera cake, of which we had to ask a second helping, was without doubt one of our favourites thanks to a creme caramel texture with a cheesecake flavour. The lemon and almond cake was soft, zingy and very pink, almost like a tiny square ice cream bite on the outside, moist as a birthday cake on the inside. The almond on top gave it that extra crunch. This was the most unusual cake in the tray and it became our favourite… so we asked for a second one of this, too.
The Grand Finale
And then came the scones. Although we weren’t huge fans of the fig jam, we devoured the warm, spongy raisin scones with their clotted cream, berries and strawberry jam.
We thought the food was over, but as a closing touch we were served two cakes from the trolley. Although the Battenberg was the prettiest to look at, the dark chocolate ganache with passion fruit was the winner between the two. Chocolate mixed with the passion fruit explosion inside two thin biscuits – what could go wrong?
By now you’ve probably realised the sketch afternoon tea isn’t just indulgent – it’s bottomless. You can always refill. However, sketch isn’t just outstanding, innovative food playing on the British and French cuisine. It’s also an experience like no other.
You step onto a sketch first thing as you walk into the venue. Dim lights showcase the latest neon creations by Chris Levine, the artist who created sketch’s Christmas light installation. A portrait of a sleeping Queen Elizabeth is what remains of the installation after the holidays, adding to sketch’s playful vibe.
After going through the main doors, a pink self-playing piano catches your attention in the corridor separating the Gallery from the Parlour, sketch’s cocktail bar and restaurant.
The Gallery itself is one of the most photographed rooms in London. Baby pink with a domed ceiling and David Shringley’s art, the Gallery is an other-worldly room immersed in a strange blend of silence and patrons’ excitement. On Friday evening this was topped by the delightful sounds of a violin and cello band covering classics such as The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and Sting’s Fields of Gold.
And then there are the egg pods – London’s most instagrammable toilets where my mum and I took many a selfie. This time we heard birds’ tweeting instead of the Apollo 13’s recording, but the egg pods remain iconic. *takes 100 pictures inside*
You can tell that everything at sketch has been fastidiously planned. Members of staff wear different uniforms depending on their duty: from the dapper caviar man to our lovely waitress’ peacock-like black and gold dress, to sommelieurs’ black tie complete with a grape pin, a sign that you can ask them everything about the drinks. sketch’s planning hides in plain sight without being overbearing.
You’re at sketch, so you better werk. Everybody there goes all out. Even I went all out, swapping my usual nakedness or metal-head attire with one of my favourite vintage Moschino outfits, Max Mara bag and What For shoes because 1) they are (mostly) pink 2) it was Fashion Week so what the hell.
I wasn’t the only one. Pink teddy coats and furs, as well as an all-pink tracksuit worn by a flamboyant Korean dude with matching baseball cap didn’t go unnoticed. In short, at sketch you dress for the Gram. Otherwise why are you there in the first place.
It is a very girly or couply space, although not obnoxiously so. We saw a lot of couples, girlfriends, mothers and daughters, sisters and the like. No one’s gonna force you to wear pink, but just know that if you are looking for a place to watch the rugby in, you’re probably in the wrong room.
We felt completely spoilt and looked after throughout our evening at sketch.
Our waitress, Eleni, was knowledgeable and approachable. She stopped by even just to have a chat and was able to recommend the best teas to match with our meals, like the spicy chai to have with our scones. The whole staff at sketch was attentive and friendly, bearing with my picture requests and simply just stopping by to make us feel welcome.
In short, chances are you going to love sketch, even if you have a cold heart and hate life. The pinkness of it all, the vibe, the food will have a contagious effect on your happiness. It’s an addictive place that will make you want to come back and enjoy being frivolous and careless for once.
My Mum’s verdict (she’s often the picky one)
We found sketch elegant, approachable, very posh yet not intimidating. Their staff puts you at ease and looks after you without being pushy or committing sin number one: asking you how it’s all going when you’re chewing on something. Spending a Friday evening there was absolutely lovely, what with the ambience and the live music band.
The food is remarkable, well-presented and unique. It deserves its good reputation!
- sketch pink Pommery afternoon tea: £78
- sketch classic afternoon tea: £58
***sketch London offered me the experience in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own. Trust me, I’ve been to places that treated me horribly even as a reviewer.