The Gallery at Sketch, Mayfair
Show me another experimental/creative/pop-up restaurant in London and I’ll show you the door. We are in a moment of fickle food experiences where dates like to show off their knowledge of the food scene by picking a restaurant that is only going to be around for a week and boasts interiors adorned with the couture second-hand garments of some socialite stylist. Sketch is a complete breath of fresh air and a bit of an institution on the creative restaurant scene, a place that reassures you that you can fuse interesting food with genuinely nuts interiors, and make it last.
The place has been around for ten years now, and boasts three bars and two restaurants, as well as the most exciting toilets in town. The Gallery restaurant is an eclectic delight, designed by contemporary artist Martin Creed. Tables, chairs, glasses and plates are an array of different designs; you’ll find a Versace armchair next to a plastic garden seat. Gimmicky yes, but it works to create a space that is both playful and decadent. The staff demonstrate the attentiveness you would get at a very posh restaurant, offset by casual charm and silly bow ties to put you at ease. The sommelier may flinch at the necessity of having to serve his fine Sancerre in a steel goblet or plastic beaker, but he does so with humour and a shrug of amused resignation. This is demonstrative of the basic vibe that strives to marry culinary achievement with a crazy design principle. And the toilets: giant eggs resting on a big white platform, just about the weirdest/most wonderful thing about the place.
The food is by French Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire, so perhaps read up on him to impress your date. There’s an impressive spread of fish on offer, from Poached Turbot to pan-fried gambas with vodka and Champagne. The portions may be delicate but the food is rich, so choose carefully if you are planning on making a big night of it later, or carrying on in one of the cocktail bars. Although the prices average around £26 for a main, you really have to go all out and try every course as they all have their relative merits. The starters are hugely creative, with a fluidy and perfectly al dente risotto with Gorgonzola and Marsala-infused pear, and the desserts are where the chef has the most presentation fun, indulging in macaroons by the piece and plates painted with chocolate. Have it all, but have it with wine not cocktails, as one Cosmo too many could be the tipping point between pleasantly full and mildly concerned.
There’s nothing you have to do here, they do it all. Regardless as to whether you play the part of banker, scruffy artist type, or glitzy ad exec, you’ll be welcomed with the same pomp and flurry. The only way to mess this up is to talk about the prices or spend too long in the toilets (which is tempting). Make sure your date gets to pick which kooky seat they’d prefer, which wine glass, which plate. Then suggest a drink in the bar afterwards and from there, order them a cab, kiss them lingeringly on the cheek and send them on their way. Follow up with a casual text and make a joke about another ‘low-key’ date night next week.
The price perhaps. It also might be a little over the top for a first date, as you’ll be peaking early. With so much stimulation around it’s much harder to figure out whether you’re having fun because you’re with them or because you’re in that room.
3. Much about it is sexy, but there’s a chance that the staff, food and interiors may peacock you out of the game. Linger in the bar after the meal and it’s back up to 5.