Tea at sketch London – “Eat Music Drink Art”
By Mary Noe
If you’d like your afternoon tea sweetened with a dash of culinary magic and a dollop of creative irreverence, London’s sketch will satisfy both deliciously. sketch is one of London’s most celebrated – and photographed – culinary institutions, known for its excellent cuisine and unexpected décor.
Set in the city’s Mayfair district, sketch is housed in a lovely 18th century townhouse with a distinguished history of design and creativity. Once the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and later the London atelier of designer Christian Dior, sketch is now an “artist-conceived” restaurant space celebrating exceptional design and cuisine.
Opened in 2002 by award-winning restaurateur Mourad Mazouz and French Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire, sketch has been delighting guests with its culinary surprises and rotating art collections ever since. Meldingnteractive contemporary art gallery with outstanding dining options, the space includes the Lecture Room and Library (sketch’s two Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant), several bars, and David Shrigley’s Gallery – a popular spot for “re-imagined” afternoon tea.
As an avid lover of a traditional and proper afternoon tea, I wasn’t sure if the sketch London tea service would appeal. Having read the rave reviews and seen the images celebrating the famous space on social media, I thought I knew what to expect – but I was still not adequately prepared for the fabulous sketch experience.
sketch London Tea in the Gallery
During my December visit, I walked through the front door into a foyer shrouded by blackout curtains, as a swirl of faux snow enveloped me in a wintery vibe and pulled me in to the dark entrance hall. Electrified by light artist Chris Levine’s laser display and lined with his famous lenticular lightbox images of Queen Elizabeth, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss, the hall leads to the Gallery, an elegant dining space glowing in monochromatic pink.
Called a “Modern European Gastro-Brasserie,” the Gallery offers both afternoon tea service and dinner, and is a dynamic multi-sensory experience… intriguing and unexpected, yet comfortable and soothing at the same time. My fellow guests were a diverse group – multiple generations of parentsheir adult and younger children, couples, and groups of friends, all enjoying the sophisticated atmosphere.
Designed by Paris architect India Mahdavi, the Gallery interior is a large, glass-domed room somehow made intimate by the faintly pink leather chairs and velvet banquets, rose gold bar, and mesmerizing laser display teasing the room with soothing bands of light.
A chic and fun spot for afternoon tea, the Gallery features work by acclaimed British artist David Shrigley. Guests are immersed in Shrigley’s art as his work flows from the satirical and witty drawings lining the walls to the ceramic tableware. During my holiday visit, the Gallery displayed 239 of Shrigley’s black and white drawings, the largest ever gathering of his original drawings.
(Editor’s Note: In January 2018, Shrigley launched a new exhibition in the Gallery, transforming it once again with 91 colorful new works. Says Shrigley: “With dreary news often filling our headlines, I hope that diners will enjoy my take on the banality of everyday life.”)
The Fine Art of Tea Etiquette
The ambiance of sketch is both elegant and irreverent – traditional style juxtaposed with contemporary quirkiness that extends to the Gallery tea service as well. The menu, presented in booklet form adorned with charming illustrations, playfully describes “tea etiquette” along with explanations of the delicacies about to be served. A literal guidebook on your tour through a French chef’s culinary imagination, the menu offers historical details and tips (like “In the British tradition, we follow Debrett’s etiquette, which declares that jam comes first” before the clotted cream on the scones), along with information about how the food is sourced and lovely descriptions of the dozens of loose tea selections.
The staff wore custom uniforms created by the late fashion designer Richard Nicoll, and instead of headbands, the hostesses added enchanting headpieces resembling frothy little crowns. The servers were helpful, friendly, and truly seemed to enjoy sharing the sketch experience with their guests. Attentive and knowledgeable, they could recommend one of the many varieties of teas based on your preference, taste, and whatever course you would be enjoying.
Upon learning that I was having the Champagne Afternoon Tea with the Pommery Brut Silver, my delightful main server, Sophien, suggested that I start with the Jasmine Silver Needle tea. Lightly delicate, with fruity flavors and hints of cucumbers and melon, it was the perfect way to cleanse my palate, and complimented the bubbly beautifully. In the Gallery, champagne is poured with a flourish from a bottle held several feet above the coupe glasses, which were elegant, traditional, and very special to sip from.
For those who do not wish to imbibe during their meal, the sketch London tea service is also available as an alcohol-free bubbly afternoon tea, with sparkling white or rosé grape juice, or an alcohol-free Bellini in raspberry or Macha tea flavors.
Caviar, Soldiers, and Scones
Before the food portion began, Sophien recommended that I choose a stronger tea to accompany the first course, and suggested Sichuan Dew, a green tea with a “thick texture, rich umami flavor, and an ancient heritage.”
A quail egg – poached in a 63° water bath – resting on a silky Comté cheese mornay sauce, accompanied by caviar and ‘soldiers’ (or narrow slices) of Comté, was presented by my ‘caviar instructor.’ He suggested I taste the caviar first by itself, then roll it to the back of my tongue to open my palate so that I could best enjoy the other flavors on the plate. The green tea paired so well with the egg dish that now I was fully on board with swapping out my teas to best accompany the upcoming delights.
My server recommended the Darjeeling 2nd Flush to pair with the assortment of finger sandwiches, which included free-range chicken on malted bread, tomato chutney and homemade mayonnaise on pumpernickel, Oxfordshire duck egg and watercress, and Scottish smoked salmon with Jacob’s Cream.
Given the choice between plain or fruit scones, I chose the latter – along with Taiwan Red Jade black tea. The scones arrived – golden-topped and studded with raisins and sultanas (dried white grapes) – blanketed within a napkin pillow and accompanied by organic strawberry and fig jams and Cornish clotted cream. The scone was perfect, firm with a light texture, and the cream was thick but not too rich.
Sweet Treats and Live Music
An assortment of bite-sized sweets, or Petits Gateaux, included treats such as Cinnamon and Chocolate Tart, Malabar Marshmallow, Pistachio Financier and Cranberry Jam, and Exotic Fruits and Lime Cheesecake. Incredibly, these were followed by cakes served from a trolley which included choices of Victoria Sponge and Peruvian Chocolate and Hazelnut. The sketch London tea portions are generous, and you may not be able to finish all the delectable treats, especially since your favorites can be replenished upon request. Luckily, sketch supplies custom containers so you can take away what you can’t finish!
Music is an integral element of the Gallery’s ambiance, and the sketch approach is “all about fusing musical genres to diversify the landscape of sound…” Indeed, on the day I visited, the pop of champagne corks melded with a classical string ensemble playing an eclectic mix ranging from a surprisingly elegant version of La Cucaracha to The Spy Who Loved Me to My Way.
The exceptional tea service and vibrant, refreshing environment make afternoon tea at sketch a London experience that will delight your senses and whet your appetite for contemporary art. Says owner and visionary Mourad Mazouz, “Food is art!”, and sketch lives up to this motto brilliantly.
Sketch offers lunch, dinner, brunch, and cocktails, as well as afternoon tea. For reservations, upcoming exhibits, and current hours and menus (including details of the sketch London tea service), visit https://sketch.london.
The sketch dress code is “art smart.”
(LuxuryLondon Tip: Don’t miss the restrooms! The sketch sensory experience extends to the area, which contains multi-colored window squares and stalls shaped like giant eggs. Lovely chiming music sounds throughout the white space, which may be the most photographed loo in London.)
Contributor Mary Noe is a freelance writer who offers a fresh approach on local happenings, keeping readers current on travel, community, and lifestyle trends.