Friday, 2 April 2010

Sketch - an irresistible bad romance

Dining, or should I say drinking in the parlour of Sketch is like going out with that boyfriend who was so fun, so beautiful, so wild, and so different from the boring types you had been to before that you thought he might very well be the one. Your parents would disapprove, making him even more irresistible. Very quickly however, you realise he's just too loud, too trendy and at about £10 for a mere nibble, he's stealing from your wallet.

'Smash Capitalism' and 'Eat the Rich' declare canvases splashed across its walls in the parlour of its 18th century Mayfair establishment. Judging by the clientele here and its prices, an obviously ironic joke at themselves. Although they wouldn't admit to it, most eaters were clearly rich. Their jeans have that distressed look through the careful work of designers, not dodgy washing machines. Their get 'just got out bed' hair has taken hours and oodles of expensive styling products to create. In fact it would be wrong to describe the diners as eaters at all- portion sizes are minuscule and cocktails and tea are the order of the day.

But a damn fine cup of tea it was. Sketch may focus on drawing in the uber trendy types with its deafening house music beats or its sparkling crystal spider web in the girls' toilets, but they don''t loose sight about how to make a great cup of tea. I ordered the Margaret's Hope Darjeeling Second Flush. It arrived in flowery gilded teapot so chintzy to be trendy, with the leaves already removed. Whilst I do like to see what I am paying for, removing the leaves after brewing meant that the liquor was brewed to perfection, and I didn't have to rush to gulp it all down before it stewed. The Assam, Ceylon and Chai varieties were from specialist tea company, Jing, which is also a sign that Sketch takes its tea as seriously as it does the decor in its toilets.

Sketch is not a place for comfort eating, relaxing or a cheap bite. It is however fun, unique and like my Darjeeling, hugely refreshing. As a 28 year old tea lover, I am seen by many as a contradiction in terms and often find myself out of place in a sea of blue rinse set perms. Here at Sketch, I am not alone in my youth. Hoorah!

Sketch is the wild boyfriend that you swore you would never go back to. However it is just so fun, so beautiful and so young that you know that you will be seduced right back before you can say 'tea time'.

A lady waiting for the loo

Quality of tea: 9/10
Service: 6/10 (the waitresses were a bit too focused on the music, or perhaps they had gone deaf)
Ambiance: 8/10
Food: N/A (I didn't eat, neither did most around me)
Value: 6/10

Address: 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG, United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7659 4500
For a look at the menu on a simpler website click here

Monday, 22 March 2010

A masterclass in tea: great on the lips, terrible on the hips

Last week I took my tea obsession one step further. I spent a whole day learning about its history, how to harvest it, how to brew it, watching it being prepared and the best bit of all- drinking it.

I had been to a tea tasting event before, but last time I did not actually walk in. Last time, not being able to see past a haze of blue rise and mobility aids, I decided the event was perhaps a bit beyond my age range. This time, I was pleasantly surprised. There was one girl who even looked to be my junior, or perhaps daily doses of white tea afforded her with a deceptively juvenile glow.

She had traveled from France especially for the day, as had a Greek man who was keen to take tea to coffeephile Athens. We really were a mixed bunch- two quintissentially genteel Japanese mothers who loved their green tea just as much as their families, one lady keen to break from the army with a passion to make tea, not war and a finance guy who knew as much about complex algorithm as he did about how to calculate perfect brewing times.

I arrived hungry- the class stared at 9.30am and as a morningphobe coming from the opposite side of London, I had yet to have breakfast. And thank goodness I arrived hungry, because I left anything but. I had not realised that lunch would be followed only a few hours afterwards by full afternoon tea.

Jane Pettigrew is a tea consultant and she delivered the sessions along with a fellow tea taster, Tim. As human wikipedias on the subject of tea, there was no question which had them fazed. Whilst they were incredibly well informed, amazingly there was no snobbery that you might see in other gourmet circles, like wine.

Whilst a couple of students picked up subtleties in aroma immediately, it took me a little longer.
'Ooh, I'm getting base notes of roast lamb here...' cried one. 'Ahh, wood shavings!' shrieked another. It became quite competitive at one point, with each contestant vying to encapsulate aromas in words before proud school masters Jane and Tim.

My only complaint of the entire day was being tempted into uber indulgence. I was assured that green tea could actively fight obesity, helping to break down fats. I doubt that even the greenest of teas could shift the scones that I had that day, however. I left, feeling slightly queezy from cake overload and couldn't face a thing for dinner that night. Apart from a cup of tea...

For course dates and more information see: