The Gallery is on the ground floor, just past the patisserie. The trendy bar is to the left as you go through, the dining room to the right. The place is beyond pretentious. If I may quote from their web site: “the triple dream of creating a “lieu” or destination place for food art and music has been realised…..” which gives you an idea of the kind of thing to expect. The room is very grand with an extremely high white ceiling, with walls panelled up to about eight foot, and above this an elaborate light show plays on the white walls, tonight a series of moving green spots on a purple background. Tables are white with no tablecloth (though there are white linen napkins) with a single nightlight in a glass jar, and the floor is red and black with intermittent light patterns projected onto this also. Seating was a mixture of white leather sofas and uncomfortable oddly shaped chairs, also in white. There were four ghastly screens, each appearing to be covered with wallpaper, but with appliqué animals such as stingrays and snails, while each screen had a sprinkling of sequins. Lighting was from directed ceiling spots plus spherical side lamps on the walls, and though it is by no means the worst lighting I have encountered, my small torch that I carry for such occasions was invoked in order to make out the menu. Modern dance music plays in the background. Essentially this is where Austin Powers would eat. The decor is utterly hideous in my opinion.
The toilets, which are up the stairs, were like large white eggs, with an attendant on hand to open the door of the egg and seal you inside; the designer here must have been on drugs. Booking was as much of a nightmare as I recall last time, with credit card number required and the comment “we don’t let just anyone into Sketch you know”, said in a tone that clearly implied that I may well not be someone, and could so easily fall into the sad “anyone” category with just a twirl of the receptionist’s moustache. I am not making this up, by the way: that is exactly the phrase used by the receptionist. The place was packed with an odd assortment of Americans, sleazy-looking businessmen and pretty girls in black cocktail dresses. The place is owned by Mourad Mazouz (creator of Momo) and the culinary input is from Pierre Gagnaire, who was allegedly here this evening, but proved immediately elusive when I asked to say hello to him.
The menu is enclosed. There are no amuse-bouche, and indeed bread was a chargeable extra (£3.50), which is outrageous. The bread did not bode well, since it consisted of some cold toasted poilane, a white baguette and a simple roll which was overcooked (bread 11/20). Oddly, a very capable walnut bread turned up later that was comfortably 16/20 level. The wine list was fairly short and has some eccentric prices. There were little colour pictures of some bottles, but not others, and the list was heavy on France and Australia in particular. Standard Pol Roger champagne was a hefty £83, while Antinori Tignaello 2001 was £130 against a retail price of £27 i.e. almost a five times mark-up. However the prize for the biggest mark-up goes to the Petaluma Chardonnay 2001. This retails at £14.81, and was on the list here at a little matter of £145. There is virtually nothing under £40. Whilst the sommelier was formally dressed, the waiters and waitresses wore black trousers and smart shirts that were white with a grey pattern. It has to be said that the service was exemplary, our waiter being friendly and attentive, and well drilled on the menu. Wine and water were topped up faultlessly.
My wife had Pizzaladiere, which consisted of six triangular slices of flaky pizza-like tart topped with button mushrooms drizzled in white truffle oil and garnished with a little pink garlic and a few leaves of lamb’s tongue lettuce. While pleasant, the button mushrooms inevitably had the limited flavour that button mushrooms have, and though the leaves were fresh and the pastry base had good texture it is hard to see that this was more than a decent 13/20 level.
I had “gambas” that were really three prawn tempura, served with two croquettes of foie gras, a few dried vegetables and a “sketchup” tomato sauce, served in an impractically steep-sided dish. The tempura were superb, the prawns of high quality and perfectly cooked, the batter very light (the prawns themselves were comfortably 17/20). The foie gras croquettes were less good, a pleasant crisp outside but lacking in more than a hint of foie gras flavour on the inside and rather dried out for what is intended to be a liquid centre. A deep fried green leek was superfluous, though the reduced tomato sauce laced with spices was tasty. Overall 16/20.
My wife’s Cornish Dover sole was pan-fried and served with mashed “Paris” mushrooms that were cooked with a very light curry flavour, diced onions and a little green pepper. The fish was very fresh and timed well, having excellent flavour; the mushroom mash worked fairly well with the sole. This was served with a separate (in a little white dish) sauce of melted butter containing diced tomatoes and pepper topped with lemon cream (16/20).
I had an odd-sounding dish, duck magret and red tuna. The wisdom of combining these can be debated, but the ingredients were top quality: raw blue fin tuna with a miso glaze (four superb pieces that would shame most Japanese restaurants) and half a dozen slices of perfectly pink duck from Landes, cooked in an infusion of green cardamoms, coriander and Szechuan pepper. The duck rested on a bed of carefully cooked courgette, sweet onion and very fresh watercress. The sauce had excellent balance, the pepper and spices just giving a bite as contrast to the richness of the duck (17/20). A green salad had very fresh mixed herbs leaves such as chervil (16/20) while steamed vegetables were served in a dim-sum basket, and were steamed to perfection (carrots, broccoli, courgette, green beans, cauliflower) - 17/20 for the vegetables.
There were just three cheeses brought, each resting on a few salad leaves, but these were no ordinary cheeses. The supplier here is Bernard Antony of Alsace, perhaps the pre-eminent cheese supplier in France, who supplies most of the top 3 star Michelin restaurants in France including Pierre Gagnaire. Here St Maure was superb, fresh and delicious without a hint of chalkiness. Teleggio from Italy was tasty and had fine texture, while Roquefort was in perfect condition. This was served with some of the good walnut bread and some excellent toasted hazelnuts and halved white grapes. These cheeses were the kind of thing that virtually never appear in the UK, from the very finest supplier in superb condition (19/20 for the cheeses). Gordon Ramsay can only dream of cheese like this. The difference in taste is huge, as evidenced tonight.
My wife had an odd-sounding dessert of blackcurrant marmalade, blackcurrant sorbet, coconut mousse and lemon crumble. I’m not sure about the harmony of this combination, but the components were very good indeed the sorbet having smooth texture and great depth of flavour, the crumble tasty, the marmalade having good balance (16/20). I had a chocolate dessert served in a cocktail glass. At the bottom was a praline, above which was suspended a layer of smooth chocolate ganache (chocolate and cream), above which was a chocolate tuile. The presentation was pretty, as each layer was suspended with a clear gap between each (a clever trick with the ganache) and the chocolate was of high quality (15/20). Filter coffee and espresso were very good, though the milk for the filter coffee came in a ludicrous little bowl with no handle, another example of form over function (15/20 coffee).
I must admit that when I saw the dining room, following by the astonishingly attitude-ridden booking experience, that I was almost looking forward to panning what I suspected would be an equally pretentious meal. However, the bread aside, the meal was vastly better than I expected. Ingredients were of the highest quality e.g. the superb tuna, fine duck and cheese from Bernard Antony. Technique was also excellent, with light-as-air prawn tempura and superbly steamed vegetables. Even the service was faultless. I am only giving this 15/20 because of the lousy bread and the mediocre pizzaladiere, but I am probably being harsh by not going for 16/20.