Sketch, London

I’m running late. I’m never late. Leaving the office, battling through town and getting stuck behind a van outside the Hippodrome – my relaxing afternoon has not begun well.

My friends are already waiting – one of them the birthday girl, the reason why we’re here today. An afternoon tea aficionado we had spent time researching somewhere she hadn’t been and that would befit this landmark occasion.

I’d been to Sketch many years ago but so far back in time I don’t remember the details and I certainly didn’t go for the full afternoon extravaganza.

Relieving myself of coat and bags I finally make it to The Gallery room. It’s pink. Very pink. Not in a lurid Barbara Cartland way – its sophisticated and opulent – almost womb-like with no windows onto the outside world, and small table lamps creating the ambience.

If you’re thinking this sounds all very refined requiring your best behaviour, then think again. Back in 2014 Glasgow-based, Turner Prize nominated artist David Shrigley was commissioned to transform the restaurant.

David created 239 new illustrations for the space, and designed the ceramics which the afternoon is served on/in. His distinctive style adds a large dose of humour and provides an innovative twist on a traditional afternoon tea.

Staff are both plentiful and playful here – bedecked in an interesting and eclectic range of styles. Men don grey boilersuite-esque outfits with Converse,  and women wear beautiful dresses which have apparently been designed specifically for the afternoon tea service. We’re told each space at Sketch has a different outfit to complement the surroundings.

A string quartet play throughout – The Verve, Adele, REM and Aerosmith. Weirdly it works.

We are going for the set afternoon with champagne today (one of these a vegetarian option)

We start with champagne (Pommery Brut Silver) which is served in those flat Mary Antoinette style glasses.

Our first course is ‘Egg & Soldiers’. A Comte cheese sauce comes beautifully served in a ceramic eggcup with an egg yolk sitting on top and accompanied Comte cheese soldiers.

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Before we had time to crack on a young and handsome man appears in a pink linen suit and Panama hat, announcing himself as “The Caviar Man”. I think I’ve only eaten caviar once or twice so am not an expert in any way. CM produces an enormous silver terrine of the black stuff and expertly explains the provenance of the this luxury delicacy. It had been farmed near Lake Garda as sturgeon in the Caspian Sea were endangered, There you go. My vegetarian pal was not forgotten and given a cauliflower caviar alternative which looked like an excellent substitute. Dispensing our caviar on a mother of pearl spoon with clear eating instructions CM bid us farewell. The whole dish was delicious and I could have eaten another as a grande Comte fan.

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Next the tea – and a first for me in terms of tea selecting. A trolley carrying canisters of all the teas on offer allowed us to smell and talk through with our waitress until we had decided. Much more helpful than taking a gamble from a dizzying long list of names.

Next we’re onto the sandwich and cake section of the afternoon. Traditional sandwich flavours were given modern twists – a tiny fried quail egg on the egg sandwich, more caviar (red this time) on the salmon sandwiches served on arctic bread. Replenishment was available on request. A big David Shrigley thumbs up for that. Veggie sandwiches were a bit disappointing, not helped by the “cheese is ok” memo not getting through.

You can see a full list of cakeage here but everything was delicious and interesting. Scones were square not round to prevent wastage. Controversial.

IMG_2969Sketch probably has some of the most instagrammed toilets ever so I couldn’t really leave without paying a visit. Gliding up completely white stairs you are met by a room of egg-shaped pods like something from an episode of Dr Who. It’s all a bit unsettling but makes for a nice photo.

We’ve had a fabulous afternoon. Sketch is great and has some other bars and areas with different offerings. If you want a break from tradition but still want the quality then Sketch is a winner in my opinion. They even offer a children’s afternoon tea menu if you want to spoil the little people in your life.

It’s not the cheapest tea available out there, but service was faultless and the standard of food was pretty excellent. For a special occasion it’s definitely worth it. Don’t forget to go for a wee too……

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