The original plan was to treat my parents and brother to Tea at The Ritz for some truly British etiquette. I managed to overlook the ridicule of paying £40 per person for finger sandwiches, rescheduled the day to accommodate the rigid booking slots and even got to the 2-month advance reservation stage. What blew the deal was the jacket & tie thing for gents. Just fat chance my dad and bro flying their jackets over for an afternoon snack.
Instead we checked into The Parlour at Sketch, which I thought was equally quintessential and tastefully stylish. There is an air of deliberate randomness in the café; chequered vs floral cushioned stools sprawled across the floor, marbled coffee tables of various heights dotted here and there, lamps and ornaments at the most unlikely corners, odd skull every now and then… the kind of decorations Mad Hatter would adorn his home with. Yet it doesn’t lose its elegance with the Louis XV sofas, antique tables and the crimson velvet curtains. It sets an ambience that encouraged us to watch time pass.
Croque Monsieur – black bread, mozzarella and basil oil, tomato and courgette
They have given Monsieur a new look, haven’t they? The visually enticing black bread doesn’t taste markedly different to normal bread, though it was very moist, perhaps because it soaked up much of the basil oil. Honestly I don’t think this has anything to do with the French classic, in fact it was more like pizzabread with the springy cheese and all, but it was fricking delicious.
Sketch Éclair – pate a choux filled with pistachio cream and apricot compote with vanilla
I used to think the chocolate éclair from La Maison du Chocolat was the best; this may have just topped the chart. Pistachio cream was whipped to a feathery lightness that disappeared like a breath of roasted pistachio essence, which went beautifully with the not excessively sugary apricot compote.
Sketch Afternoon Tea
Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Cooked ham and Dijon mustard, egg and mayonnaise sandwiches; 2 Fruit scones with seasonal jam and clotted cream & Sketch pastries
(Comparatively) Modestly priced at £27pp that includes mini pastry creations from the ingenious Pierre Gagnaire. We were gently reminded that the set cannot be shared as we ordered. Ummm… okay. Mum must have enjoyed it, she did scoff all the pastries without offering and reported how creamy/rich/explosive/indulgent they were, especially the raspberry semi macaron.
It was a good call to ditch the Ritz for The Parlour. I was spared from the finger sandwiches, the setting was perhaps less classic British but more unusual and easy-going, and most importantly food was adventurously different. Bill came to just under £70 with 3 coffees and the above. May not be the best value deal in the city, but it’s only a fraction of what I was prepared to pay.
9 Conduit Street
Tel: 0207 659 4500