Starting with the toilets might seem like an odd choice when covering a restaurant where the wine list runs into four figures without breaking a sweat – I say, “runs”: it’s more of a languid jog: ‘I’m chilling, mate; aiming for the five barrier’ – but with sketch, you really have to start with the toilets.
The toilets are housed not in a conventional bathroom but a sort of artificial glade, and each individual toilet has its own egg-shaped pod (or should that be pod-shaped egg?) and within this egg music plays from a speaker (you are not, I should stress, serenaded by an actual live musician: the pods aren’t big enough), so you can do your business in the egg while the more-than-a-little-ominous rumblings of a church organ soundtracks the emptying of your bladder. (File under ‘Unlikely Sentences: Part 1).
Anybody using sketch’s toilets as a toilet is in the minority: sketch’s toilets are 80% for the Instagram (indeed, apparently they are the most Instagrammed toilets in the world), 15% for the conversational topic once you return to the table, and a mere 5% for the vulgarity of bodily functions. (There are people in sketch who I don’t think have ever done a poo, at least not knowingly.)
But “I’m just popping to the eggs” is a much more elegant expression than “I’m off to the bog” so the socially awkward will doubtless appreciate their existence – plus an egg is a soothing place to hide if the world outside gets too much. (The music is less soothing, but presumably it’s not always church organs: you might get some Otis Redding or acoustic Spanish guitar.)
Lobster fricassée comes with a bowl of popcorn to pour into the veloute.
So thus the toilets. You might assume the restaurant attached to them can’t possibly live up to the funkiness but the Gallery at sketch tries awfully hard. (Like, awfully hard.) It’s a massive pink warehouse with pink sofas snaking round the walls, and tables surrounded by padded pink chairs that look a little bit like flower petals.
Imagine if Barbie and Percy Pig decided to open an American Diner in the shell of the The Haçienda, and then got the Pink Panther to help decorate. You feel like you’re dining within a ball of candy floss.
If you tire of talking about the toilets – but how could you? – the walls are decorated with individual David Shrigley artworks: 91 of them, supposedly, although we didn’t count. Pick the one you’d like to hang above your bed. I liked the silhouette of the naked person captioned “Naked Is OK.”
(Please note: this sentiment does not extend to the sketch dress code. When it comes to the dress code, clothes are expected, and reasonably nice clothes at that. Naked is most definitely not OK.)
Onto the food. There are two salient facts about the menu at the Gallery: the food is very, very good, and the prices are very, very high.
Or perhaps these facts are not salient at all but utterly meaningless; because the type of people who go to sketch will eat very, very good food so often that for them it’s just ‘food’ – ‘Wait, you can have steak that isn’t wagyu?’ ‘Lambrini – is that a type of champagne’? ‘What’s a tin?’ – and the difference between a plate of food priced £15 and the same plate of food priced £45 is the assumption that the former must be an appetizer.
So I can tell you our shared starter of Conduit St Soufflé was delicious, simultaneously light yet firm, and it came with a sauce that necessitated the ordering of a bread basket to mop up every drop; I can also tell you the soufflé cost £19 and the bread basket £6.50, and whether your reaction is a recoil or a shrug will indicate whether or not the Gallery at sketch is your type of joint. Use your imagination with the mains.
For those mains, you can play it relatively safe with something like breast of guinea fowl stuffed with an almond-pistachio cream, and you will not regret doing so because fair play, this fowl is worth a fair few guineas. Or you could venture into the funkier parts of the menu... such as lobster fricassée with sweetcorn veloute and baby carrots. Oh, and popcorn. It comes with a bowl of popcorn to pour into the veloute.
Who comes to sketch and orders a salad? It’s like going to Disneyland and spending the day on the teacups
I once ate lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, and since then I’d kind of assumed that the limit was hit when it came to ‘unexpected lobster food pairings’. Lobster and popcorn clears that bar and then some. (I’ll let you know when I discover lobster and chocolate sauce.) It’s silly and it’s fun and it’s extravagant and it’s exactly the type of dish you should be eating in a place like this. (The woman on the adjacent table ordered a salad. Who comes to sketch and orders a salad? It’s like going to Disneyland and spending the day on the teacups.)
As for drinks, choose between the cocktail menu or the wine list. (There are three menus: the food one has pop-up forks, so you have spares if you drop the table version.) We went cocktails – why the hell not? The cocktails are obviously fantastic and have vast numbers of ingredients so I recommend you just pick the one with your favourite name / the base alcohol you like. However the wine gets brought in these massive bottles – like, proper massive: the table opposite ordered one and it practically had its own gravitational field – so if your wallet can handle the hit, have some wine with your dine.
That earlier Disneyland comparison is more or less on point: if Uncle Walt had opened a venue in London, it would probably be a lot like sketch. The Gallery is only part of it: there's also the Parlour, three-Michelin-starred Lecture Room & Library, and the very sexy Glade bar – plus the toilets. Obviously. Treat yourself to a place of pure imagination: for one evening, the real world can wait.
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