Restaurant review: Sketch Lecture Room and Library

One of the reasons that we haven’t been posting so many Last Night’s Dinner entries to the ETP blog of late is that we have been celebrating. Yes, it’s been my birthday and a fairly significant one too (ahem). So we’ve eaten out, indulged in too much Champagne, stayed up too late and had that strange next-day feeling that can only be described as a food hangover. We’ve eaten some rather lovely veggie food too. Top of the meals was at the Lecture Room and Library at Sketch in Mayfair.

Now, we’ve eaten at Sketch before, downstairs in the Gallery restaurant. We’ve utilised the egg-shaped pod toilet cubicles and we’ve been gloriously drunk on free cocktails in the sunken, circular members bar. We’ve even been to a party in the Gallery and drunk little bottles of Pommery through a straw while watching Tracy Emin dance with her mum to Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’. But upstairs at the Lecture Room and Library? No. Not a chance. Not a big enough wallet. Too posh. Seen the reports about the prices. Ain’t nuttin’ doin’. Except…

Except the Gourmet Rapide lunch menu offers three generous courses for £48, including a half bottle each of mineral water, a half bottle each of wine (and yes, that means you get a whole bottle of wine on a table for two), plus coffee and petit fours. Oh and an ongoing supply of bread, and a round of amuses bouche appetisers to get things going. You can even do two courses without wine for £30. Now, given that some of the main courses from the a la carte rock in at the £50-£60 mark (seriously!), this is astonishingly good value, especially as there was no real sign of compromise on the quality of the food they delivered: all of it impeccable Michelin-starred elegance.

And yes, a vegetarian route runs right through the prix fixe menu. First, those amuses bouche: not one little taster but a selection including some miniature parmesan biscuits, crisp cumin scented crackers and a cleansing seaweed consomme. The first course came as four separate dishes and was listed, slightly confusingly, as “Tomato Jelly and Nasturtium Flower / Thao’s Avocado / Tamarillo Sorbet / Rhubarb / Brie and Gingerbread / Hibiscus Syrup / Celery”. But you get the picture – four tantalising plates with delicate combinations of taste, texture and temperature. It was a little journey all of its own, beginning with the fresh zip of tomato – the prettiest of small plates, dotted with nasturtium. Then a richer, deeper sorbet, followed by a tiny open sandwich of oozing brie on a gingerbread biscuit atop a sour rhubarb reduction that perfectly cut through the richness of it’s rivals. And then onward again, with the clear notes of celery to refresh your palate for the main.

That main only needed two dishes: one for a lettuce velouté with Ratte potato gnocchi that demonstrated a light springtime touch with a classic formulation of spuds and greens; the second for a salad of artichoke and pear with a not-overpowering gorgonzola ice cream.

We took a choice of desserts, Ella opting for a selection of cheeses (including a fine Stinking Bishop) at a £10 supplement – it came with sarasson cream, mostarda di Cremona, crackers and grapes seasoned with olive oil and Maldon salt. Cheese courses sometimes disappoint. Not here. I went for the dessert ‘Pierre Gagnaire’ (for it is that chef’s name which sits at the top of the menu). It came as two separate dishes: a salad of strawberries and raspberries and a good slab of chocolate dessert that I can remember little about other than that it was eaten enthusiastically.

It’s been a while since Ella and I have eaten at such a top-end place. Sketch really is a destination restaurant but, after the hype that surrounded its opulent rooms and exorbitant prices died away a few years ago, it seems almost to have been forgotten about in the press. A new tranche of fine dining places have come to the fore – Hibiscus is just round the corner and Heston Blumenthal’s new venture, Dinner, is serving up headlines for the foodie hacks at about the same rate Sketch did a decade ago. But it’s still an amazing room. And, with the fixed lunch menu, surprisingly affordable too. For a special occasion, of course. Which this was. Thanks Ella.

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