Ever since I came to London last October, Sketch’s Parlour has been one of the places I really enjoy spending time in. Their patisserie is easily the best in London, the service always impeccable and the atmosphere relaxed. Also, this house, which once belonged to Christian Dior, features some of the most amazing design in Europe, as far as I can tell. The whole concept of it, being a Sketch, in constant evolution is one, that makes new twists appear here and there regularly.
Having found out that Pierre Gagnaire, who supervises the kitchen, was in town, all good sense was lost and I just simply had to go. It was the first time I had a meal at one of Gagnaire’s restaurants and I must say, that his cooking is most interesting.
The experience is an outer-worldly one. The whole space is just like no other restaurant in that it is surreal, crazy, warm and so over the top, that you just enjoy it.
The meal started with a selection of canapes: Truffle croquettes, cumin crackers with Tuna cream, blood-orange juice, colombo meringue and Japanese vodka jelly. Of these the croquettes, Tuna cream and colombo meringue were amazing. The blood-orange juice and vodka jelly were more or less tasteless, or not strong enough. A very pleasant way to start a meal.
After this came four little starters. The first one being Chicory and Roquefort Veloute with Torrefied Nuts/ Braised Turnip in Cider/ Duck Breast/ Strasbourg Sausage. What could look like a random association was in fact a very well constructed plate. The slight bitterness of the Chicory is countered by the slight sweetness of the Turnips and the richness of the veloute. The textural component of Gagnaire’s kitchen becomes clear as well: The meltingly tender duck, the creamy veloute, smooth Roquefort encased in the torrefied, crunchy nuts makes this a feast for all of the senses.
The second part of this tasting was Kimichi Stew of Tofu, Bok Choy and Nashi Pear/ Ginger & Sesame Seeds/ Langoustine Broth. This dish continued on the same idea as the last one, as every texture from creamy (Tofu), crunchy (Bok Choy), smooth (Broth) to al dente (Pear) was covered. Tastewise this was another masterpiece with the strong veloute playing the role of the soloist. The Tofu deserves to be mentioned as it was easily the best I came across for quite a while. Very good again.
A third little plate containing a Sauerkraut Custard/ Shiitake Mushrooms and Chervil/ Marinated Sweet and Sour Shimeji Mushrooms with Coriander arrived and created a happy fusion of the Germanic Sauerkraut and the other Asian elements. This was, once more, a very good dish. Only problem: The custard was too cold, to develop it’s full power. Very good again.
The last part was Red Cabbage, Beetroot and Redcurrant Jelly/ White Beetroot, Red Radish and Chive Salad. I must say that I’m no big friend of jellied elements, especially if they constitute the majority of a dish. Here I can’t say that I hated the dish, but it wasn’t the most amazing one of the dinner. The flavours were again very present and perfectly balanced.
After this came Roast Breast of Pigeon and Pigeon Mousseline with Sarawak Pepper /
Radicchio Salad and Medjool Date Leaves / Winter Vegetable Curry . Here again, the dish was delivered in a few individual plates. The main one containing a few strips of perfectly cooked, pigeon breast, a very strong pigeon mousseline and a jus, that was just amazing. This was the essence of the Pigeon’s taste, strong, slightly gamey and intensive. Very good.
Aside the main dish was brought a very fragrant curry of different zucchini types. Very pleasant, if not necessarily close to the other dish.
After the intensive gamey pigeon, a refreshing Nashi Pear ice cream provided a very welcome refreshment.
Roast Scallops / Sea Urchin Velouté with Puy Lentils / Scallop Carpaccio and Crunchy Red Radish / Organic Salmon Roe. Now, those who read some of the other articles I wrote will have remarked that I can’t understand the British habit of cutting nice big scallops into thousands of little pieces before serving them. Seeing that both chefs (Gagnaire and Pascal Sanchez) are French, they know that a big scallop is best cooked whole. In this case, the perfectly cooked scallop was accompanied by some earthy lentils and a sea urchin sauce. The latter could have been slightly more reduced or thicker. Apart from that, this was another very fine dish.
The second part of the dish was a carpaccio covered with some sweet and sour radish. The sauce was similar to Passard’s lobster sauce on his famous homard a l’aigre-doux. Top quality scallop with the crunch of the radishes and the distinct texture of the salmon roe. Perfect.
The main course was another more simple course: Slow Cooked Chicken Breast/ Parmesan and Grappa Sauce/ Onion Fondue/ Agria Potato and Rocket Mousseline. I usually am no big fan of relatively bland chicken, but here it was quite another story. The chicken was nearly as tasty as a Bresse chicken, with a slightly more tender flesh. This was a perfectly cooked piece of poultry. It’s accompaniments were very good too, but in combination it was on the salty side. Still it was one of those dishes that showed Gagnaire’s spontaneous character. When he described his kitchen as one that is full of emotion but where one might say that it needs a pinch of salt or so, he gave the best description of it. I would say that despite this being over-salted, the dish still transmitted this little emotion (I can’t believe I’d ever write such a thing). The potato mousseline was perfect. Much lighter than other purees, the rocket giving it some colour and freshness.
After these few courses and a huge amount of bread (perfect) with the lovely Bordier butter I was starting to feel the limit of my belly’s capacity coming closer. The Grand Dessert, served in 5 different preparations, as opposed to the 9 he serves in Paris, made me forget all of this. The first three citrus-fruit desserts were among the finest you can imagine. Despite their minuscule portions, they had the perfect balance between the sourness, sweetness and slight bitterness of the different varieties used. These were simply perfect.
The following blackcurrant variation was equally amazing. Various different structures of these berries formed another slightly acidic, refreshing dessert. Excellent.
The last part was a very intensive chocolate cake. Whilst having great depth of flavour, it could have done with an airy mousse instead of the overpoweringly thick layer of ganache and the not so airy top cremeux. This was the less successful of all, but still good.
After such a feast one needs a good coffee and some petit-fours to finish it off in the appropriate way. Here both coffee, and petit-fours, were perfect. The little nod to the UK’s culinary heritage was a reworked After Eight, which was much more enjoyable than the original. Amongst the others the meringue stood out. All in all a very enjoyable ending to a great meal.
Despite the fact that I had heard mixed reviews of both Sketch and Rue Balzac, I was very happy with this meal. It was simply a most inspiring, interesting, if not perfect meal. I, who usually likes the perfection that reigns at other French haute cuisine restaurants, really enjoyed the emotional, spontaneous side of the cooking here. I love this concept of having little a part dishes to complement the main ingredients. This way you discover such a wide range of tastes, textures, ideas and pairings that wouldn’t be possible any other way. What more can you say? Service was very good, showing just the right amount of attention, the meal was great and the whole experience is just so different from other London restaurants (who tend to be slightly boring). Both Gagnaire and Mazouz were lovely people, who confirmed the spirit behind the house: the open-mindedness, the wish to let their guests experience new sensations and the simple rigour and passion that made them into the great restaurateurs they are.
I only want to go back as soon as possible, which seeing their very reasonable prices should not be a problem at all. First, will come a few restaurants in Europe.