I first tried to eat at Sketch three and a half years ago when I impeccably timed my reservation at their two star restaurant with being mowed down by a car outside my home. I recall the doctor visiting in my pen, me in a temporary cast up past my knee, to inform me I had broken nine bones and would be spending more time than I would have liked at hospital. I asked if in his opinion I would be fine to travel to London in less than two weeks to eat at a restaurant. He laughed in my face. Still undeterred, I contact Sketch and ask their opinion. “Sir”, a heavily French accented lady would answer, “we have no lifts but our staff can assist you up the staircase to the restaurant”. I decide against it and instead book another restaurant in Birmingham where pain would cause me to pass out at the table mid-starter. In hindsight cancelling Sketch was probably the correct thing to do.
Since then I’ve visited on numerous occasions for very expensive cocktails, but never to eat. Until this time, when finally, after three years of waiting, I bypass the coloured stairs that take you up to the two stair restaurant and turn right into the gallery for afternoon tea. That’s me, a thirty-five year heterosexual male, having afternoon tea in a room that is decorated entirely in baby pink. Where has my life gone wrong, please, someone tell me. I wasn’t going to write about it, but when said afternoon tea comes in at £85 per head once service has been applied, I’m going to tell you all about it.
First the ambience, which Micky Flannigan was entirely correct in saying is a French word for a room too stuffy for poor people to afford. The room rammed with ladies of the world whose figures would dictate that they prioritise being seen over being fed, each with foreign accents and expensive handbags. I love it here. Champagne is poured from a great height and we are told that tea will be served in four courses. Little porcelain egg shells hold a comte mousse and confit quail egg yolk. It’s rich with plenty of cheese flavour. On the side is a little mother of pearl spoon filled with salty caviar because we are in Mayfair, Darhlin’. It’s as decadent a start as one could wish for.
We get tea – of course we do, silly – the pots fighting for room on an already bulging table. Then the main event arrives; a stack of plates; sandwiches at the bottom, sweet stuff above. From the sandwiches I swerve the smoked salmon because the stuff makes me gag, instead throwing myself into a rich duck egg mayonnaise and watercress, topped with a fried quails egg. There is pumpernickel bread with tomato and lettuce and the best coronation chicken I have ever eaten. I joke that I could eat another plate of these. Another plate appears. They get eaten. The sweets are all works of precision, from which we like the blueberry cheesecake least and a bubble-gum marshmallow that disappears all too quickly. A delicate plum tart has the kind of short pastry that Mary Berry would approve of, whilst a square of chocolate and caramel is ethereally light and addictive. Top billing is saved for a glorious choux bun with a generous measure of redcurrant cream, as good as pastry I have tried.
This being afternoon tea we got scones and jam and not enough clotted cream, all of which I neglect for more coronation chicken. I sit, shirt bulging, with the top button of my trousers loosened, stating that I couldn’t possibly eat a thing more when we are offered a fat slice of Victoria sponge. It’s delicious but too much.
So what is apparent is that £85 buys you a lot of afternoon tea. So much so that we struggle to move those arses of ours down the road to The Blind Pig for more cocktails. Looking back now it’s clear that I enjoyed it, partly because the company I kept was great and partly because it’s a polished affair with nice food. But would I do it again? Probably not. I just don’t think I’m an afternoon tea kinda guy and I’d much rather take that sum of cash elsewhere for a more serious bit of cooking. Like upstairs. Yes, next time I visit Sketch I’ll finally get up those stairs and into that two star restaurant. Unbroken and unassisted.