Archive for November, 2008

Sketch Lecture Room and Library, London


I first visited the Sketch Lecture Room almost two years ago. It was a different time. I was a different man. Since then, the economy has shrunk, whilst my admiration and enjoyment of good food has grown. Thus, in keeping with my own habitually contrarian nature, today I decided to dine at the most expensive restaurant in the country. But, like Matthew Fort, ‘I am a curious and greedy fellow. I like to spend my money on great food’.

The Lecture Room and Library are just one fraction of the fairytale fairground, one part of the pleasure palace that is Sketch; there is also the Glade, Gallery, East Bar and Parlour, another restaurant, bar, bar again and patisserie respectively. It is the brainchild of Mourad Mazouz and Pierre Gagnaire. The former is a Berber’s son from Algeria turned Paris and London restaurateur (hip eatery 404, Paris and trendy Momo, London), the latter a French super-chef (five Michelin stars). Together, they shared an ambition to launch a ‘lieu’ for food, art and music, which was first formed in 1996 when the pair plus an anonymous investor purchased a derelict eighteenth century building on Conduit Street. Many years and many millions later (some say twelve, some say more), finally in 2002, Madonna unveiled Sketch with an opening-night party that straightaway set it up as an exciting, outrageous and fantastically fashionable ‘magnet for extraordinary people’.

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Pied à Terre, London

Pied à Terre - Ses Etoiles 2

Pied à Terre is the two star restaurant run by David Moore and Chef Shane Osborn. It also happens to be the big brother of l’Autre Pied, where I recently enjoyed Marcus Eaves’ talented cooking (himself formerly sous chef here). Moore has also been in the limelight lately having played sidekick to Raymond Blanc on BBC2’s The Restaurant. Actually, one episode was even set here, with contestants spending a service or two as members of the FOH. But the less said about that, the better.
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Hereford Road, London

Date: November 12th.

Place: West London.

It was a cool, crisp morning. The streets were clear and quiet. Suddenly, a solitary figure swiftly slunk out of Notting Hill Gate station. It snuck along Pembridge Gardens, before snipping over Pembridge Square. It then snaked its way up Moscow road, eventually stumbling onto Ossington Street. It stopped. It looked left. It looked right. It looked lost. From around the corner, someone else approached. The isolated soul stared at him. He slowly turned, starting towards the stranger. Soon they were face-to-face…

‘Excuse me, Sir,’ I enquired, ‘where is Hereford Road, the restaurant?’ ‘Oh, right there,’ he pointed just a stone’s throw further up the road we were already on, before abruptly adding ‘and it’s great!’ I thanked him and carried on, surprised at the out-of-the-blue outburst yet smiling because of it; what a ringing endorsement I thought to myself.

Hereford Road
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The Square (The Return), London

The Square

I am a sucker for a well-written menu. And boy does Philip Howard know how to write them. His dish descriptions are neither long nor short, neither exhaustive nor aloof; the reader is given a fair hint of what will happen on the plate, whilst allowing enough flexibility for a surprise or two. Both sempiternal and seasonal signature items, whose quality can always be relied upon, litter every course; not to mention the ever-present ‘Fish of the Day’ that adds a mizzle of mystery into the equation. As you may be able to tell, I am not one to suffer from menu ennui; I can read (and talk/write about) good ones all day. The corollary to this, of course, is that I cannot stand cartes that promise so much, but deliver so little.

The Square, after my August bank holiday dinner with W, came very close to falling into this contemptible category. There were mitigating circumstances, however, which I have, from that day forward, clung to in heartfelt hope that that meal was a one-off, freak misfire. As it was a holiday, Chef Howard and sous-chef, Robert Westin, were both, unsurprising, on holiday themselves and on this fact I blame everything that went wrong that day.
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