Afternoon Tea at Sketch London
I must admit, I knew nothing about Sketch. A friend with huge admiration for British artist, David Shrigley, had read about the venue and wanted to go for her birthday. I had no personal expectations – except that I’d lighten my wallet of around £70 and that, for the price, I should exit with a fuller stomach than when I arrived. I was correct on both counts. What I didn’t expect is that I would be completely dazzled by the alternate universe that has been created within the walls of 9 Conduit Street in London.
Sketch is not new to the restaurant circuit by any means. Celebrated by restaurant-goers and art-appreciators alike, Sketch has a long and interesting history of reinvention. The brainchild of restaurateur Mourad Mazouz and Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire, Sketch first opened its doors in 2002 and quickly became renowned for its seamless melding of quality cuisine, art and music.
For over a decade, Mazouz has proved his commitment to art and design with over 50 exhibitions held at Sketch, ranging from Carsten Nicolai to Sylvie Fleury. In recent years, he has handed the reigns over to artists, allowing them to completely transform the venue according to their own unique visions.
“Every two years we give the main room to an artist to do an installation,” he explained in a video interview with crane.tv, “I don’t have a clue what they’re going to do with it.”
The first iteration of this innovative initiative featured a takeover by British artist and musician, Martin Creed, in 2012. After its huge success, 2014 hailed the beginning of a new Sketch, brought to life by the creative mind of David Shrigley.
With the assistance of architect and designer, India Mahdav, Sketch was transformed into the perfect backdrop for Shrigley’s most expansive art exhibition yet.
Sketch is playful and eccentric, much like Shrigley himself. It’s also very pink.
“The walls are pink, the furniture is pink, the ceilings are pink. Everything is pink! I don’t know what to tell you, it’s a statement,” Mazouz said.
Puffy velvet chairs sit beneath a pale pink ceiling, encased on all sides by pastel pink walls that are almost entirely covered by 239 new works by Shrigley.
“I made all of these drawings for this project and I think it’s the largest group of original drawings that I’ve ever shown,” he said of his collaboration with Sketch.
“The art in this space, is going to be kind of hard to avoid, because it’s both on the wall and in front of you on the table, so you can’t really get away from it.”
Not only has Shrigley transformed Sketch into his very own alternate pink universe, he’s also designed the ceramic tableware used at the restaurant with his signature mordant sense of humour.
“When you make a piece of art, you have to make it for yourself, or you have to make it to engage yourself,” he said.
Engaging it is. From the works lining the walls to the quizzical tea sets and the restaurant staff’s uniforms – bespoke creations by fashion designer Richard Nicoll that complete the transformation.
The Sketch experience begins from the moment you enter the building and continues as you take your bulbous seat, discuss your champagne options and meet The Caviar Man.
Yes, a designated Caviar Man greets you at your table to give you a brief education on the delights of caviar before serving you a tiny spoonful to start your dining experience. From there, a tiered display stand is brought to your table laden with delicate sweets and sandwiches.
Let your eyes wander as you sip champagne and indulge in the items on Master Chef Pierre Gagnaire’s exquisite menu, all to the whimsical soundtrack of a live orchestral band. Sketch has one more trick hidden up its high-society sleeve and – without spoiling the surprise, I will simply urge you to visit the bathroom before you leave.
What’s next for Sketch? Who knows. This installation was always meant to be transient, according to Mazouz.
“I’m not very static, I like when things move and Sketch always from day one, was supposed to be a movement. The idea is to have a different place each time.”
If you haven’t yet been to Sketch, be sure to book a table before this revolving door of a restaurant transforms into something else entirely.
Dining at Sketch
Sketch Classic Afternoon Tea, £58 per person
Champagne Afternoon Tea, £72 per person
Children's Afternoon Tea, £30 per child - including Pat the Bear