Take a stroll down Mayfair’s Conduit Street and, just before you’re swept up in the buzz of Oxford Circus, you’ll spot Sketch London housed within a rather grand three-story Georgian townhouse.
Congratulations, you’ve just arrived at one of the quirkiest venues in London – and one which lays a solid claim to being the most beautiful, too. Originally set up in 2003 by an envelope-pushing Algerian restaurateur named Mourad Mazouz (AKA “Momo”, who made his name in Paris, opening acclaimed restaurant Au Bascou when he was a precocious 26 year old), he found the stunning venue in a dilapidated state, and bought the deed without even knowing what he would do with it. All he did know what that is was a) beautiful, b) over its 220 year history, home to an extraordinary lineup of societies & institutions, including cyclists, balloonists, psychologists, and the Suffragette movement and c) his.
Heading inside Sketch, you’ll immediately feel your feet being drawn into step along the hopscotch court painted onto the floor. But keep your eyes up, or you’ll miss the glitter-smothered portrait of the late Queen just to your left, or the hypnotic mechanical sculpture down the stairs at the back.
Sketch London is fuelled by art. It’s infused in the walls, the floors, the bathrooms, and in the food itself. It makes for a venue that looks like nowhere else in the city, or – dare we say it – the world…
Here’s what you can expect to find in its five restaurants and bars…
For many years Sketch was famous for its iconic pink interiors, with the pastel walls of its flagship restaurant space covered in original David Shrigley artwork. However, the place was recently given a top-to-toe makeover – and yes, it’s pretty stunning. It’s the work of designer India Mahdavi and artist Yinka Shonibare, who together have lavished the space in golden, sunny hues under the title of Modern Magic. Shonibare created 14 new works of art exclusively for the space, comprising hand-painted wooden masks and quilted portraits referencing the African art that inspired Picasso, while new crockery, uniforms and light fittings have been commissioned from master craftspeople and designers around the world.
The menu on offer in The Gallery includes generously portioned starters like beetroot, served three different ways alongside Campari burrata ice cream; thinly sliced veal shank with raspberry and canteloupe; and even breaded frog legs with a green spelt risotto. Main courses are no less spectacular, ranging from sautéed squid with ink, parmesan crisps and aubergine ‘caviar’; all the way to guinea fowl breast stuffed with almond and pistachio cream. There’s even a double tartare with both hand-chopped beef and tuna. For dessert, you can’t really go wrong with their Sketch Chocolate, whose meringue shell conceals dark chocolate mousse & dark chocolate ice cream together with crushed hazelnuts, cocoa jelly, and strawberry ganache.
But the Gallery really comes into its own for…
SKETCH’S FAMOUS AFTERNOON TEA
Served daily between 11.30am and 4.30pm, afternoon tea at Sketch is a deeply luxurious affair. The room’s infused with an atmosphere of refined indulgence and merriment, with a string trio playing everything from classical chamber music to Eleanor Rigby. Here, you’ll be waited on hand and foot by a fleet of specialists, from your own personal tea master to your caviar man for the afternoon. What follows is an exquisite array of sweet and savoury treats: delicate slices of cucumber atop soft white bread; brioche buns generously piped with black truffle cream cheese; puréed cauliflower served in an egg cup and topped with caviar… followed by miniature, melt-in-the-mouth blackcurrant meringue kisses; colourful battenburg slices; and scones heaped with fig jam. Oh, and that’s before the cake trolley is wheeled over to your table for pudding.
Washing it all down is a hand-picked selection of Jing teas, running the gamut from delicate Jasmine Pearl to aromatic Vanilla Black and roasted Iron Buddha Oolong. They’re served in traditional Japanese teapots to keep their heat, and you can switch up your choice as many times as you like. For celebratory occasions – or random Tuesday afternoons – there’s a list of excellent English sparkling wines and signature cocktails – and for the non-drinkers, a brand-new sparkling tea. The combination of Sketch’s unique setting, the impeccable service and, of course, the food, is unparalleled, making it easily one of our top spots for afternoon tea in London.
THE LECTURE ROOM & LIBRARY
Just in case you were under the impression that the Gallery is where Gagnaire poured all of his ambition, allow us to correct you. Above it both physically and critically is The Lecture Room & Library, a slightly more refined (and arguably traditional) fine-dining restaurant.
The food is every bit as ambitious as Momo had hoped for his new venture and – according to the three Michelin Stars the restaurant has since received – every bit as delicious too. On first impression, and given the veritable toolshed of cutting edges that you’ll have already been exposed to in Sketch London’s design, this space seems strangely understated at first. But it’s all in the details. The baroque veiling is painted in lush pinks and purples. The walls are studded to match the gentleman’s club-esque armchairs. The back wall in one of the rooms (there are three in all) is mirrored by tinted panels, to create perfect visual metaphor for what this place is: Sketch’s uniquely interesting reflection of sumptuous luxury.
Since snagging that third Michelin star, the Sketch Library has switched to serving tasting menus only, which come in vegetarian or ‘lobster’ varieties – the latter of which including a starter described as Live Langoustines, which is thankfully only a tartare seasoned with Japanese sansho pepper, blended with a little grapefruit & watermelon, then flattened between two light, fluffy, and crunchy potatoes.
Other courses include roast Anjou pigeon and foie gras (with diced lobster), Venere rice with gorgonzola ice cream, and white peach raviolo served with green curry.
And for pudding, there’s Pierre Gagnaire’s Grand Dessert, which is an insane lineup of saffron ice cream, strawberries, red pepper, black olive jelly, apricot marmalade, praline & coffee cubes, confit Arlette cherries in red port, mascarpone ice cream drizzled in yuzu syrup, a biscuit soaked in aged Kirsch, some peach compote, fresh almonds, lemon verbena -infused milk foam, crunchy chocolate parfait, raspberries, and cocoa water.
That’s ONE dessert….
Moving onto the less formalised restaurant spaces, we come to-
This is Sketch’s patisserie by day, and one of its bars by night. If you’re into a little breakfast or brunch, you can grab one of the colourful chairs (complete with ballet shoes en pointe on each leg) and indulge in some waffles with maple syrup, a Full English with bacon, black pudding and coco beans, or some poached tempura eggs with avocado and ‘sketchup’.
Moving into the evening, the patisserie counter is freed from its pastries, and filled with ice for cocktails including a Lady d’Arbanville, which combines two types of vodka with elderflower liqueur and ‘Darjeeling droplets’. And you’ll be glad to know that – although this isn’t really a beer kind of bar – the craft beer revolution has made its way over here, with some Meantime brews on offer in bottles.
THE GLADE AT SKETCH
You’ll be glad to know The Glade exists mainly because you didn’t come here to not be transported into an enchanted fairytale forest filled with elegant furnishings covered in hand-painted velvet, carved oak shelves behind the bar and coloured mirrored tabletops, with and a lush carpet of pine needles and life-like grass underfoot.
It’s another of Sketch London’s restaurants, this one designed specifically for lunch rather than the dinner crowd. Its incredible decorations are directly inspired by an early 20th century French postcard – the artists who designed the room re-painted it, enlarged & reversed the design, the printed it onto hundreds of metres of paper. They they took that paper, and carefully mapped it out onto the walls of the room, hand-cutting and sticking it all up seamlessly, so a to make it seem like you are in the postcard itself.
An illusion that is strangely complimented by a self-playing piano.
The food on offer spans from light and refreshing lunch dishes, like prawn carpaccio with pink grapefruit gel & fresh coriander or a spring lamb stew; to the indulgent Queen of Puddings with custard, cake, jam, and meringue.
THE EAST BAR | SKETCH LONDON
If what you’re after is a simple, straightforward, good ol’ fashioned cocktail bar, then it should be perfectly obvious that you’re in the wrong place. But The East Bar is as close as Sketch will come to any sense of normalcy. Of course – that said – it is set inside a giant, spaceship like globe, completely white on the outside, with a totally circular sunken bar in the centre of the room on the inside. The scattered newspapers you’ll notice are actually menus, and on those menus are a typically quirky selection of cocktails, with a few classics thrown in for good measure…
If, while you’re in the spaceship-like bar you feel the call of nature, then you can simply walk up onto its roof (seriously, the bar is enclosed within a space so large, there are stairs on either side snaking around and above the outside of the bar), and check out the strangest loos in London. They’re all housed in individual pods, scattered haphazardly around the space, which rather alarmingly resemble large alien eggs a bit like that one in Mork & Mindy. Under a multicoloured ceiling. Once you’re inside your capsule, you’ll hear strange music or audio clips being piped in, and on exiting you’ll probably notice the staff polishing up, dressed in Victorian uniforms.
We hear they were tailor-maid….
NOTE: Sketch London is open seven days a week. It’s best to book ahead, but they do accept some walk-ins. You can find out more, and reserve a table, on their website HERE.
Sketch London | 9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG
Looking for more unusual places to eat in London? You’ll probably like this very specific guide to Unusual Restaurants in London, then.