Many years ago, I remember seeing an exhibit by celebrated British conceptual artist David Shrigley. Already a huge lover of taxidermy, I instantly fell in love with his ‘I’m Dead’ sign-wielding kitten, and he’s been on my radar ever since. So imagine my delight when back in 2014, David was commissioned by Sketch as part of a long-term project to transform The Gallery into an artist-conceived restaurant concept. Alongside the 239 original works – the largest ever collectively exhibited by the artist, his dining concept also extended to a design of the ceramic tableware used during service.
It’s been years since I’ve dined at Sketch with some clients, so this was as good an excuse for a re-match as any. Located in Mayfair, Sketch is one of those places you’re likely to have walked past a dozen times during the day and been none the wiser. It’s only in the evening, once the welcome carpet and velvet rope comes out do you know a night with revellers is on the cards. This is a multi-room entertainment venue consisting of different spaces like The Parlour and East Bar for enjoying cocktails, The Lecture Room & Library, which is where Sketch’s two-Michelin star gastronomic restaurant is based and The Glade, best visited if you’re in the mood for afternoon tea. The Gallery is the venue’s gastro-brasserie and primary dining experience, decked-out in candy floss pink velvet banquettes with major art deco influences.
Following a couple of cocktails, we arrived at The Gallery, which was buzzing by the time we took our seats with a predominantly international clientele. This is a truly magnificent space. The novelty of the dining room is really something, and the quirky nature of the Shrigley works somehow manages to fit in perfectly with the decadence of the furnishings. It’s all a little over-the-top, yet unexpectedly compelling in its own unique aesthetic.
I tend to be quite predictable when trying new restaurants, usually ordering from a repertoire of a handful of dishes, which makes it easy for me to benchmark different venues on the quality of their food. The other Mr. Highlife and I agreed on ordering a bunch of seafood, with my starter consisting of hand-dived scallops served as a tartar with avocado, artichoke and a zingy dressing. These arrived on clam shells featuring the David Shrigley designed porcelain. My main was a rather heavy Dover sole meuniere, with cuttlefish, bok choy and a side of fries. It was slightly on the greasy side, which I attribute to the beurre Nantais. While we polished off our bottle of Sancerre, dessert arrived in the form of rich vanilla bourbon cream topped with lemon ‘Wurtz’ malabar ice-cream and pastel coloured marshmallows – whimsical and fitting.
Though enjoyable, this was so much more about the experience than the food, as I don’t recall feeling blown away by the culinary offering. I think I just enjoyed the buzzy atmosphere and having something interesting to rest my eyes on no matter where I looked. The Gallery is a stunning dinner venue and a destination you should consider for a special occasion. And no visit to Sketch would ever be complete without a visit to the bathroom to giggle over the egg-shaped futuristic pods designed by those clever people at the Manser Practice. A sci-fi lovers wet dream!
Restaurant – 8/10
Experience – 7/10