Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sketch Lecture Room & Library - Picture & Pitch Perfect

Last month I only made it to The Parlour for afternoon tea; this time I was led up the stairs through the darkness to first floor. I could almost hear the trumpet salute as the maitre d’ opened the double door behind the heavy curtains, together with his perfectly timed ‘Welcome to Lecture Room & Library’. Majestic.

The spaciousness of the 2-storey high room was amplified by the domed glass ceiling. There were many subtle irregularities and deliberate mis-matches in the décor: odd elongated chandeliers made of stripy red cloth, hung by a thick rope; opposite tinted-mirror-lined walls that reflected into psuedo infinity; massive plain white square wall hanging, which with intense staring I saw the faintest sketch of a child’s face. Just little touches to modernise its grandeur.

After we were comfortably seated on the plush sofa chairs, the maître d’ brought a short marble stool for my handbag to rest beside me. On a bad day, I’d say pompous. But I was in a beautiful mood. We were introduced to a trolley of champagne and aperitif to choose from as our server promptly laid the selections of canapés, amuse bouche and butters on our table.

Crunchy vegetables with Cuttlefish and Sesame

Cumin Sticks & Dip

Seabream in Shiso Leaf/Magdalena Ball/Biscotti with Pepper skin/ Parmesan Cream in Wafers
Wow. Where to start. I think Japanese amuse bouche are in style at the moment, Pied a Terre served something very similar to this vegetable and cuttlefish mix; that familiar citrusy vinegary ponzu-like dressing. Great little appetite teaser.

The platter of nibblets was signs that promised a tantalizing meal ahead.  I think it was the sweet wafers dissolved into the cheesy cream that earned the most ‘hmmmm’ from me, and somehow, just somehow Mister thought the biscotti tasted like dog biscuit.

And the seaweed butter… If Viajante’s black pudding infused butter gets a 9/10, this would probably be a 7/10, and all other salt & unsalted options fall below 4/10.

Assortment of Four Starters
I was totally loving the torrents of food filling up our table. The colours, the arrangements, the plates and gigantic spoon, there was so much for me to ‘aww’ and ‘ahh’. We were advised to start with the soup.

Tomato and Strawberry Soup/Cucumber Sorbet

Strawberries do wonders when paired with the right ingredients; here they toned down that sharp, familiar tomato zing, boosted the colours and spilled their sugars, which were gently diluted by cool cucumber ice. The outcome is this clean, crisp and easy-going version of gazpacho.

Seabream Carpaccio/ Samphire/ Oil Emulsified with Passionfruit/ Cucumber & Radish
Nothing new about the common carpaccio? Not exactly. The passionfruit wasn’t overly pronounced, just a hint strong enough to stay around and sweep out the heady garlics and punchy radish.

Poached Quail Egg/ Watercress Puree/ Girolles & Brioche
Then we mounted to something stronger with the savoury veloute made with a heavier stock base. The beauty of the dish was the glowing runny quail yolk that surged into the green well. It held together all the beautiful, familiar flavours and condensed them into a few forkfuls.

Yea I was going to snap a pic with the liquid yolk, but the fork beat the camera to it.

Foie Gras/ Pickled Cherries/ Chocolate/ Pane Carasau
I gobbled this delicate piece in one go. The thin disc of dark chocolate melted onto the foie gras cream, slowly releasing its deep, intense aromas onto my taste buds with a bittersweet finish. There was a lot going on in this indulgent, rich bite, but so rightly balanced it didn’t drive into an overkill. The starters ended on a powerful note.

Warm Mackerel Tartare/ Shellfish Bisque/ Black Ink Gnocchi/ Sauteed Squids
Clusters of chopped mackerel, hidden under the leaves to avoid the downpour of the vibrant orange sauce, exploded like a fish bomb in mouth; so raw, so exaggerated and so similar to the vinegared mackerel sashimi, but better. The small black cobbles were misleadingly soft, akin to squid ink instilled marshmallow, helped to rein in the fishiness and alleviated the textures on the plate. Together with the bisque, each mouthful was packed with heavy punches of flavours. Godsend.

Roast Corn-fed Chicken/ Walnuts & Pecan Nuts/ Marinated Aubergines/ Crunchy Onions with Cider Vinegar/ Herb Bouillon
Whiffs of lemongrass and coconut, yet the dish hadn’t tipped off the balance to the oriental side. It’s chicken breast, but if it’s any consolation, it’s chicken breast with skin and possibly the most succulent pieces one could imagine, further juiced up by the aubergines. The sauce was fragrant, exotic and tropical; everything on the plate was harmonious. I loved it, but not as much as I loved the fish.

I seriously contemplated desserts, but I was way too stuffed to even share one. Mister, for his slowly but surely expanding waistline’s sake (trust, he’d say the same thing about me), suggested we save it for next time. We resorted to a couple of coffees to finish off.

Sketch is grandly peculiar and luxuriously eccentric; there is an odd conformity of quirkiness from its décor to food. The entire meal was carefully structured to bring out the best of each ingredient, each dish was a step up from the previous, and each bite was something new derived from composite flavours. It’s the most memorable meal I have had this year and I’m coming back to celebrate the next special occasion, however wallet-wrecking it may be.

Sketch - Lecture Room & Library
9 Conduit Street
Tel: 0207 659 4500

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You may also like: ViajanteCambio de Tercio, L'Aterlier de Joel Robuchon


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