This year, we’ve fallen in love with Sketch all over again. We really didn’t go overboard for what Martin Creed did when given free rein over the Gallery restaurant space in 2012 (Creed’s Work No. 1347). While a room full of the most mismatched furniture possible made for striking and witty photography, there was no guarantee as to precisely what you’d sit on for dinner (would it be the green plastic garden chair?), meaning that the prospect of an evening at Sketch had become tinged with some of the anxiety that we imagine those people who go to “no reservations” restaurants must feel all the time.
For us, dinner has to offer certainty.
David Shrigley is another British artist known for wit and irreverence. He might seem an odd choice to fill the follow up to Creed’s space, but in fact his graphic whimsy is perfect – particularly with India Mahdavi creating the opulent pink-on-pink set for his 239 pictures (the largest collection of his original drawings ever exhibited). And the one thing that we really did like about Creed’s previous installation has been preserved: the zig-zag tiled floor in 96 shades of marble that recalls his now iconic Scotsman Steps in Edinburgh (Work No. 1059).
In fact, the Gallery might be the prettiest dining room in London this year, right down to the Shrigley-designed ceramics (including a trio of condiment vessels marked “dust”, “nothing” and “dirt” – available to buy from Sketch from September). And we love the staff uniforms to bits: Richard Nicoll’s tailored jumpsuits for men and T-shirt dresses for women are the chicest things on Conduit Street.
We visited the other evening with the wondrous fashion writer and historian Mrs Miniver, who is very partial to a bit of pink, and who hailed it all as exceptionally beautiful and “very 1930s Hollywood”. Everyone at our table agreed that Shrigley and Mahdavi’s makeover of the Gallery is a triumph: radiant, and intoxicatingly glamorous. Only Bob Bob Ricard can compete in terms of this kind of OTT cinematic dining in W1.
There was a time, of course, when Sketch was a nightmare of hype. The first year of its life was so fraught with Chiltern Fire House-type antics that we’d have rather done its windows in than gone there for cocktails or supper. Paparazzi, futuristic egg-shaped toilets and preposterous guest lists aside, no one really understood the concept – but what Mourad Mazouz was doing with chef Pierre Gagnaire was taking dining in London into the 21st century and beyond. Once way ahead of its time, it’s now become a modern classic – but one that still has the power to surprise. The upstairs Lecture Room & Library is as ravishing as it ever was, and as wonderfully weird: like a mix of the Nostromo, the Temple of Thelema, the Moroccan bazaar and a Busby Berkeley musical.
a mix of the Nostromo, the Temple of Thelema, the Moroccan bazaar and a Busby Berkeley musical
The food in the Gallery is as solid as ever, mixing Gagnaire’s high science with a relaxed brasserie attitude. “Chantilly Lace” (black and basmati rice, lobster bisque, red pepper and horseradish cream) and crabmeat with tête de veau, squid, cucumber and green apple water are fresh, inventive and delicious. The “Homage to David Shrigley” is, at £26, one of the spendiest raw tuna starters we’ve had this year, but as its name suggests, it’s visually playful, with an arrangement of creamed avocado and a side dish of black olive gelée buried beneath a mozzarella foam. And for mains the suckling pig and foie gras “gâteau” with sweet red cabbage is a knock out.
What else can we say? Did we mention it’s pink? Very pink. You might want to book as soon as you can for Valentine’s Day. C
Sketch, 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG, UK
020-7659 4500; sketch.uk.com