It was Grace's birthday and, being the caring boyfriend I am, I wanted to take her somewhere special and with a bit of 'wow' factor.
After getting some advice via Twitter and checking a couple of reviews from bloggers I trust (thanks Laissez Fare (some great photos of the decor & toilets), Foodsnob, the Catty Life) I decided on the opulence and sheer glitz of the Lecture Room at sketch (deliberately lower case.)
They may have the most annoying website in the world, but from the moment you step into the place you're made to feel welcome and special.
From the over the top welcome from the restaurant manager to the French maid who escorts you back upstairs from the most weird, wonderful and decadent toilets I've visited, the whole experience puts a smile on your face and a dent in your wallet!
Now, it would be easy for sketch to be a place of style over substance, but i'm pleased to say that the food is more hit than miss.
As it was a special occasion we decided to go for the 8-course tasting menu and as a nice touch we were given a bookmark with all the courses listed.
First up came a selection of feulletes and amuse bouches. Not one, but about five, together with a fine selection of warm bread and three types of France's finest butter (salted, unsalted and a herby laverbread one). It was almost a meal in itself.
Highlights of which were a delicate tuna sashimi (served on a block of ice) and a gooey, deep fried cheese ball.
Grace and I aren't huge fish lovers, but this was a beautifully balanced dish. The main fillet was delicate, perfectly cooked and melted in the mouth. The meatier rilletes had a much stronger, peppery flavour and worked well with the beetroot.
The photo doesn't really do this dish justice. It was fab. The Lardo di Colonatta was something new for me and I was bound to enjoy anything made of pig's lard and garlic! The crab and langoustine were also very good and the accompanying creamy sauce made for an accomplished dish.
This was the course I was most looking forward to as it contained some of my favourite ingredients on one plate. However, whilst all the individual parts were good, the dish as a whole just didn't quite work for me. I could barely taste any chorizo in the ice cream and the gingerbread and foie gras was a taste combination too far. Whilst it was visually beautiful with the vivid orange ice cream, it was the only dish that was more style over substance.
In hindsight I should've taken separate photos of the scallops and the pumpkin soup and cubes of scallops, as they were essentially two dishes. The scallops with the leeks and salsify were huge and beautifully cooked, however the leek and salsify overpowered the subtle flavour of them and I left most of leek and just ate the scallops. The pumpkin soup was a light, creamy broth and really went well with cubes of scallop.
There was only one meat course on the tasting menu, so the pressure was on for it to deliver and fortunately it did. It was a really hearty winter dish. The deer was lean, cooked a perfect medium rare and packed full of flavour. The accompanying sauce was much reduced and so was rich and intensely flavoured. The red cabbage and quince jelly provided a sweet contrast to the rich flavours of the deer and sauce and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole dish.
The cheese dish was unusual and a real mix of flavours and textures. The roquefort was creamy, but with it's usual strong flavour, there was a Ewe milk jelly (texture of pannacotta, but without the sweetness), a hint of lemon and a coarse, crunchy sable biscuit. Like I say unusual, but I enjoyed it.
Sadly I didn't take any notes on the five desserts and my memory has failed me a bit - it must be my age - so apologies for the slightly shoddy write up of them.
Anyway, I do remember doing a highly satisfactory swap with Grace for her dark chocolate torte with my pistachio dessert. The torte had a gooey, soft, fudge topping and was very moreish (hence the two portions). I also have fond memories of the deconstructed jammy dodger dessert.
At the prices sketch is undoubtedly a special occasion restaurant. At £95 (plus 12.5% service) for eight courses you expect something special and for me sketch delivered. The ingredients were first class, the portions extremely generous for a tasting menu and the service exemplary throughout.
Often the things you remember (see desserts part above) about a restaurant six months after a visit is not always the food, but the experience and it's fair to say sketch was the perfect way to end a special day and will live long in the memory.
It was what fine dining is all about for me with a decadence and opulence that means, even if just for a few hours, you feel good to be alive and privileged to experience great cooking in sumptuous surroundings.