Wednesday 26 August 2009

Sam's and Fowey

Fowey is a stunning seaside town, dedicated almost entirely to boats. Chaps in thick sweaters, boys in sailing caps and squawky seagulls compete for attention, whilst cars squeeze through streets so tight you’re surprised when they don’t all get stuck.

Our camp site was on the east side of the estuary and as luck would have it, Cowie’s car turned out to not be amphibious, so we soon became the ferryman’s favourite customers as we shuttled between tent and food.

Car crossing

We ate extremely well in Fowey, thanks to everyone’s suggestions. We had a lovely, sunny lunch of crab and sardines at Food for Thought in the main square, waited on by a Hungarian staff. It was perfect for our needs, but we’re pleased we went for lunch rather than dinner.

Having failed to get a table at Nathan Outlaw’s star spangled restaurant we had to make alterative plans. Our second option was to dine at The Old Quay but after a chat with their ex-fish supplier and a glimpse of their, rather expensive, menu we decided not to go. With its terrace overlooking the estuary, The Old Quay would make a great spot for fruit de mer as their sun goes down or crab salad at lunch time perhaps. But with the sun already down it would have been silly to pay the premium for a view and not see it. We also looked at The Other Place which seemed good on the website, but less enticing in real life. And had a great tea stop in a hippy café called Pinky Murphy's watching cars holding their tummies in as the teetered through the cramped streets.

Pinky Murphy

Old Quay

Having assessed all our options, we landed up going to Sams. Of all the restaurants we visited on our trip, it had by far the most atmosphere. We were greeted with a barrage of energy and off beat humour reminding us of a combination of School of Rock, True Romance and Empire Records. The format is certainly working for them. We looked at the menu boards, placed our order with one of the three Sams and then joined the queuing masses upstairs in the bar.


An hour or so of drinking with some long lost friends and our table was ready. Apparently, in yesteryear, the pre dinner drinking took place on the street outside rather than in the slightly cramped bar upstairs which would have been a lot more fun. Rumour has it, the pre dinner boozing is designed to get everyone in a good mood so they don’t think too hard about the food. A tried and tested technique and a major reason for American restaurants all falling apart in the dry years.

We started with an enormous portion of stunningly crispy and juicy red mullet tempura that had us purring with pleasure. Thumbs up.

Red mullet tempura

So far so good. We were nicely sozzled and beguiled by our starter. Then our distractingly attractive waitress started to work her magic as she brought me a steak knife for my skate, before realising that she’d muddled up her letters. When the skate arrived, I almost asked for the steak instead…

It was very tasty and ample, but let down by being overcooked and swimming in an estuary of caper butter. As much as I like chips, something less deep fried would have been a welcome foil for the grease on the plate. Unless of course they thought I was having steak and were hedging their bets.

Skate and chips

Cowie’s sea bass was a mirror of my dish. An unattractive assortment of sea bass fillets jostled for position with a sprouting bean salad. Neither main course allowed the fish to be the star of the show as the red mullet had been with our starter. Which was a shame.

Sea bass

We feel bad criticising the food, which was enthusiastically off-key, because we had a really fun evening. Much like being at a karaoke bar or a mate’s gig. Other than a great starter and an epic soundtrack our highlight was watching our waitress spin from mini crisis to full on diplomatic row, but all the while admired and cheered on by her adoring bosses. We'll definitely come back in search of their bouillabaisse or for some lobster and chips next time we're in Fowey.

Our 1 mile trip home took around an hour as we had to drive all the way around the estuary because the ferry stops at a very leisurely hour. Silly us for expecting it to run late. Despite the messy main courses we loved Sam’s because it was simply great fun. It’s food as entertainment rather than being pretentious, fiddly and quiet. If you’re in the Fowey area and want to have a laugh with some decent food to soak up the booze, coupled with amusing service then Sam’s won’t let you down. If they could just replicate the brilliance of the red mullet tempura then it would be a belter…

This is part of a series about our trip around the South West.

Monday 24 August 2009

Portloe, St. Mawes and The Ship Inn

Cowie driving

Our journey from The Gurnard’s Head in Zennor took us through Penzance, past St. Michaels’s Mount and the oyster beds of Helford (where apparently there's a great camp site with a clay pizza oven called Gear Farm) and on to Flushings where we caught the tail end of a regatta and the start of a fete. Patches of blue sky and ribbons of bunting seemed to greet us wherever we went.

We landed up in a farmhouse BnB between Truro and St. Mawes in the most undulating and rugged Cornish scenery you can imagine. Hills didn’t roll, they tumbled; grass wasn’t green, it was emerald. As we arrived at Tregonan Farm we could barely believe we had found it. The driveway was a mile long, down a valley, over a stream and walled in by steep hedges. The tarmac had long worn away leaving a “road” more rutted than a winter ewe.

The farmhouse looked idyllic from the outside, as it did on the website. When our utterly charming host welcomed us in, we couldn’t help but sigh when we were shown to our browny-beige room. It was the least romantic bedroom you can imagine. The interior design equivalent of granny pants held up with a chastity belt. The dated look and rickety fittings were a master stroke in ensuring that amorous guests don’t keep everyone up all night!

We pottered downstairs and were greeted by tea and warm scones that had just emerged from the AGA. It made me wonder whether they had a camera at the bottom of the drive which alerted them when a guest was arriving in order for them to put the scones in the oven… There can be few more enchanting things than fresh scones, home made gooseberry jam, clotted cream and thoughtful hospitality. Full marks.

St Mawes boating

St Mawes harbour

Prompted by their user-generated restaurant and pub guide we drove down to the stunning fishing harbour of St. Mawes. We loved the quiet atmosphere and sight of boats bobbing about as if they were listening to one of Will Young’s more mellow ballads. But St. Mawes is devoid of a decent pub, with the Rising Sun doing only a half decent job of imitating one. It’s crying out for someone with some vision to do create a cracking fish focussed pub.

So we drove on to Portloe where we found The Ship Inn, which was so full of people they were spilling out all over the nearly vertical street outside. It was abuzz with locals, visitors, old sea-dogs and boozehounds adding character at the bar.

A perfectly grilled whole plaice with lemon butter washed down with a magical pint of Tinners was just what I wanted. Nothing fancy. Light. Spot on. Cowie’s prawn cocktail was straight out of Simon Hopkinson’s world. And why not?

We walked off our light supper and stood looking out to sea feeling refreshed, inspired, liberated and eager to return. When we can afford it, we might even indulge in a trip to the Lugger, which looks like a very smart place for a romantic get away.

Well done Tregonan and Portloe. Timeless, British hospitality at its most genuine. Why can’t other places manage this? It really isn’t hard.

Part of a series of posts about our trip around the South West.

Friday 21 August 2009

A Perfect Lunch at The Gurnard’s Head, Zennor

As we left St. Ives and headed west towards Zennor, the sun emerged from behind some sulky grey clouds and bathed us in warmth and optimism. I never thought we’d ever get to visit The Gurnard’s Head, which stands out in Diana Henry’s books as being one of the best gastro pubs in the country, but also the most remote.

After wiggling along the “Top Gear testing-esque” road we stumbled across the image we’d seen in books and on websites many times before. The iconic image of The Gurard’s Head Hotel with blue sky above and brown cows in front. I can’t think of a more welcoming sight.

Gurnards Head from a distance

Gurnards Head Sign

The pub is renowned for its top notch food and relaxed but stylish atmosphere. A collection of friendly paintings adorned the walls evoking a feeling of being in a successful friend’s living room. Groups of walkers, families young and old congregated around plain tables and basked in comfy chairs. A toddler spent the whole time re-arranging the library and doing sprint starts towards the kitchen. Cookery books were strewn around along with guides to the local area and switched on staff never missed a beat.

Fish soup

We shared a perfect, deep-crimson, bowl of fish soup which came with a fully leaded rouille and some crusty bread. At the last moment they grate some orange zest on top to give it an extra lift. This put the fish soup from The Anchor at Walberswick to shame and is a contender for “best fish soup EVER” in the words of Comic Book man from The Simpsons.

Grey mullet

A fillet of grey mullet, served with aioli and squished new potatoes and bursting tomatoes was divine. The delicate skin was crisp, but not burnt. The supernova-white, flesh teased apart and wasn’t muddy. Spot on.

Sea bass and samphire

Cowie’s sea bass with samphire, new potatoes and salsa verde was equally as good. There was nothing pretentious or flash about either dish. But neither could have been bettered.

This was without question our best lunch of our trip - and quite possibly my favourite since the Paunch began. It was so good, we are going to find their sister pub in Wales, called The Felin Fach Griffin Inn, which AA Gill once described as “Exceptional anywhere in Europe - in Wales, it was as damn near miraculous as the Angel of Mons".

We wish we could have stayed all day, and then tucked into supper. But alas, we had to move on. But isn’t it great when you leave somewhere wanting more?

Fingers crossed for summer

This is part of a series of posts about our foodie odyssey around the South West.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Porthminster Beach Café & St. Ives

Our odyssey around the South West of England started in St. Ives with the rain screaming down and the forecast looking gloomier than Eeyeore at a funeral, which serves us right for having the audacity to spend our summer holiday in the UK and to expect sunshine! Spurred on by a break in the clouds Cowie and I went for an evening jog in order to work up a serious appetite and get a feel for the local area. Given that I only had 2 pairs of trousers for the trip and both were a touch snug, regular jogs to keep some of the impending weight off seemed like a good pre-emptive policy.

A combination of sheer tiredness, rain and a lengthy walk led to us driving from our base at the Atlantic Hotel to Porthminster Beach. Sadly, as we had been warned, parking proved to be more difficult than getting a seat at rush hour on the Northern Line. For 30 minutes we explored alternative parking options, including such no-gos as a retirement home and cemetary, before heading back to our hotel and asking for a taxi. Several phone calls to cab companies later left us stranded with a 50 minute wait for the next cab! So we made another attempt at parking and got lucky, over an hour after we had started!

We arrived at the Porthminster Beach Cafe in a flap, with the rain teeming down to a charming welcome and a prime table overlooking the beach. If the weather had been better it would have been the best view from a restaurant table in the country.

A glass of sparkling raspberry Champagney stuff from Polgoon in Cornwall put us in the holiday spirit and turned the gloom outside into a sparkling, pink glow, just like our fizz. (It was a product we saw time and again around the region and is on the menu at the National Café.) Children’s crab buckets were filled with ice and used to chill the wine.

The menu was exhilaratingly charged with fresh ideas from countries far, far away but based on the fruits of Cornwall. Cowie’s scallops with cauliflower puree, bacon, spiced nuts and a warm grape and truffle jelly was stunning to look at and almost as good to eat. Some more seasoning and this would have been worthy of being exhibited as a multi sensory installation at the Tate down the road.


My crispy squid with citrus white miso, black spices and crispy shallots was magical. Apart from the last part. As ideas go, it’s up there with some of Baldrick’s less successful ideas. But luckily the burnt shallot dust was kept in its own vessel and wasn’t allowed to contaminate the fantastic squid. Meltingly tender and crusted with crispy batter, it’s a dish that I won’t forget for some time.


Cowie’s monkfish curry is one of the Porthminster Café’s signature dishes. The rich stew is an amalgam of prawns, mussels, tamarind, turmeric, coconut and chunks of monkfish topped with tomatoes almonds and tomatoes.

Fish curry

Unfortunately, the plate was cold and the food only slightly warmer so we sent it back for a quick blast in the microwave! The flavours were generous and deeply satisfying, if a little light in the chilli department.

My John Dory with crab fritters and an oriental dip, on the other hand was disappointing. The fish was meagre and over-cooked. The crab balls were bland. And the whole thing a shadow of what a good piece of John Dory can be. Plus, the use of a shot glass was a touch repetitive.

John Dory

We shared a tamarillo themed dessert to finish, but as we tasted each component, wished we hadn’t. The best part was a gorgeous crème brulee which was the least infected by tamarillo! And why did all three of my courses have to feature a shot glass?


It was the most expensive meal of our trip with a very creative menu and a chic atmosphere that you will struggle to find anywhere else in the South West. Whilst, the food started brilliantly it tailed off like the end of a ballad as the ideas got more overworked. If we’d been watching the sun go down or alternatively having lunch overlooking the beach we’d probably have ignored this and thought, “wow”. But without the view to offset the culinary slip ups, we were left feeling impressed in general, but slightly irritated about the food and wondering if they are becoming victims of their own success.

The following day we had coffee at the Porthmeor Beach Café, with Tate St. Ives behind us and sun drenching the beach. It almost felt like we were sitting in a postcard. Over the course of 30 minutes we oohed and aahed as the kitchen emitted the most incredible smells of fresh fish and wafts of garlic and saw dishes of crab claws and bowls of rich fish soup land in front of wowed diners. If we hadn’t been going to The Gurnard’s Head for lunch we’d have tucked in and no doubt raved about it. We also heard that Porthgwidden Beach Café, is preferred by those who consider themselves to be in the know. Their menu is far less elaborate than Porthminster’s but that’s no bad thing. The sound of their seafood pancake has got me excited from 300 miles away!

St. Ives is incredibly lucky to have not one, but three fantastic beach cafes that serve a stunning range of top quality food with views over the sea – which can’t be far off being unique for a town of this size in the UK. You’ve also got the added bonus of stunning beaches and access to Vicky’s bread, (from Fore St. Deli & Digey Food Room) which wins awards on a regular basis.

For more foodie information about St. Ives have a look at this website.

This is the first in a series of posts about our trip around Cornwall, Devon and Dorset which you all helped to make so special by responding to our call for help.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

La Barca - Ideal for Dinner before the Old Vic

Image from Celebdu on Flickr

Choosing restaurants to take your parents to is tricky. Especially when you’ve got the added parameters of having to be finished by 7pm and be near Waterloo so we could make it to the Old Vic in time to see The Cherry Orchard. A spot of research on Twitter led me to La Barca. Luckily, I didn’t look at the reviews on London Eating, otherwise we would never have gone…

“The service was slow, rude and pompous.”

“It's one of the most overpriced restaurants I've been too.”

“La Barca used to be great; there's clearly something seriously awry with it now.”

“My advice - only visit here if you're prepared to put up with badly cooked food and poor customer service, we certainly won't be going again.”

On the night the air was stickier than a fly catcher and more saturated than a toner cartridge. Sweat clung to my back and made me feel like a filthy urchin. Just typing it makes me feel clammy. So the beautifully air-conditioned interior of La Barca was gloriously welcome.

With 5 of us eating (and Dad paying) we were able to sample a wide range of their impressive, but robustly priced menu. My Mother and Sister guzzled their enormous prawns, still enveloped by their terracotta shells, in garlic and lemon butter before any of us got a look in. They looked sensational. When quizzed Mum said it was the best thing she’d eaten in ages. Dad’s smoked salmon parcel contained a cushion of crab meat that had him purring like our geriatric Siamese cat. Meanwhile Cowie’s bresaola with truffle oil and parmesan was a treat. My grilled sardines were, grilled sardines.

Whilst the starters were good, the mains stole the show. Cowie devoured her pink centred tuna. Dad demolished his mixed platter of fried white fish with a grin on his face that apparently I’ve inherited. Whilst Mum enjoyed her rosy best end of lamb with a slightly dodgy gravy. But, it was my dish that stole the show.
Because we’d arrived late I’d ordered very quickly and without much thought. Why I ordered sardines, I’m not quite sure. But where I’d missed out on the first course I won on the main course. It was like accidentally filling in a lottery ticket and winning the jackpot.

My “Spaghetti a La Barca” arrived in a paper bag and was lovingly spooned, tableside, into my bowl. Squirmy spaghetti jostled with plump mussels, clams, squid rings, tentacles, scallops and a vast tiger prawn. And mingled with a spiced tomato sauce that I managed to splatter all over my white shirt. It’s one of the best bowls of pasta I’ve ever had.

I loved it so much I asked them how it’s made. Apparently they boil the pasta and make a rich tomato sauce with some mild chilli to give it background heat. They then pour the pasta and sauce into a paper bag and add the seafood before baking it in the oven for 10-15 minutes with the lid on.

The technique is elaborated upon by John Thorne, in “Simple Cooking”:

“With the paper bag method, the pasta is cooked in the ordinary way until it is almost done, then mixed with the sauce and put in the oven to bake. Since the bag is collapsed around its contents and sealed, the flavour of the sauce completely penetrates the pasta.

There is also a second advantage. Because no moisture escapes, the cook has the opportunity to get a maximum amount of flavour from a minimum of undiluted sauce...”

As we walked across the road to the Old Vic, Mum and Dad said it was one of the best meals they’ve had in London for many years. It’s not cheap, but if you just order the pasta in a bag and have a bottle of house wine you can’t go too far wrong. The negative comments on London Eating seemed very wide of the mark. If you are planning a trip to the Old Vic with your family, then a trip to La Barca before hand is just the ticket.

La Barca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 11 August 2009

The Anchor, Walberswick, Suffolk

One of the main reasons we decided to spend a long weekend in Suffolk was the Anchor at Walberswick. We’d heard about their fabulous range of wines by the glass and impressive cooking and when we visited their website couldn’t click on the “book here” button quickly enough. It also had the seal of approval from the queen of Gastro Pub endorsements - Diana Henry.

We spent the day in Southwold enjoying Adnams beer, sand dunes, beach huts, idyllic sunshine and an impressive picnic of squid, octopus and smoked sprats bought from The Black Olive (which is on the Independent’s top 50 list). Before heading back to our BnB to get changed out of shorts and into something more suitable for dinner, we headed down to the estuary and caught the ferry across to Walberswick. Simon Barnes, Times columnist extraordinare and Suffolk evangelist, claims the short hop across the river is one of Suffolk’s most impressive features and we find it hard to disagree. Walberswick is a stunning village nestled into the nook between estuary and sand dunes. It’s got a heavenly feel and more than lives up to the charm of its name.

On our way back we popped into the fishing huts that cling to the side of the estuary and were wowed by the charm and kindness of the fishermen. Our favourite shack sported some unusual fish, on top of the usual suspects such as garfish and eel. It was 5pm as we left and the queues of cars gathering to collect their fish and chips was already developing. Our appetites were well and truly whet.

Sole bay fish company

So we arrived at the Anchor, hoping for something to rave about. We had imagined a range of fishy specials, plucked from the day boats and served with panache. But what we got was far more prosaic and, in short, disappointing.

More often than not, I want to eat everything on the menu. But I found myself reduced to ordering fish soup followed by haddock and chips. Cowie opted for scallops followed by cod, in a repeat of the previous night. Other options on the menu included beef bourguignon and lamb stew. It seemed very odd given that we were in the middle of summer and by the sea. Given the amazing array of fish we’d seen 2 hours earlier, only 300 yards from the restaurant, we were very disappointed.

My fish soup was fine. But the rouille was underpowered. The bowl would have benefited from an injection of fish flesh, or a couple of crab claws. Meanwhile Cowie’s scallops with bacon were well cooked but nothing you couldn’t do at home after a long day at work. Both starters lacked imagination.

Where the starters failed to get out of third gear, their excellent range of wines by the glass succeeded. A fresh and expressive Gewürztraminer added life to my fish soup and a glass of fine Macon worked well with Cowie’s scallops.

My deep fried haddock with jalapeño tartare sauce and chips was poor. Whilst the fish itself was flaky, the batter had been overdone so it was brittle and dark mahogany rather than golden and light. The chips weren’t crispy and clagged. And the jalapeño tartare sauce lacked heat. I applaud the imagination, but would have preferred either a jalapeño sauce, or a tartare sauce, rather than a confused hybrid. Compared to our fish and chips the next day from Aldeburgh's temple to all things battered, this was poor.

Cowie’s baked cod was a lovely piece of fish that was beyond reproach. We just wish there had been a way not to order cod. That garfish from the other side of the estuary would have been interesting…

It pains me to write a disappointing piece about the Anchor because I really want to love it. It’s got so much going for it. Owners, Mark and Sophie Dorber, have a stellar reputation as beer guru and cook respectively. Mark’s recently set up a “beer academy” at the Anchor and is doing a fine job with on the booze front. And their collaboration with Food Safari is inspired. But as people have commented on Trip Advisor, the experience doesn’t live up to the hype which makes me think our underwhelming experience wasn’t a one off. The location is great, the wine list and range of beers are fabulous, their website is stunning and their philosophy is spot on. But their food lacks creativity and precision and, ultimately, is the anchor that is holding them back from being a roaring success.

Monday 10 August 2009

The Triple Plea, Halesworth, Suffolk


Suffolk has been tempting us for a while now with a lift of the skirt here and a fluttering of the eyelashes there. There’s only so much gastronomic temptation a food obsessive can take. So we took Oscar Wilde’s advice and gave in.

We stayed at the spacious and very civilised Stables of Henham Park where the recent Latitude Festival was held.

The room was big enough for the entire Royal Family and our breakfasts were as good as you’ll find in a BnB.

They even managed to provide us with friendly co-guests to talk to around the breakfast table and decorated the walls with fantastic photography of the local area by Chris Calver.

We absorbed the recommendations of the visitors’ pack and booked ourselves in for dinner at a pub called the Triple Plea in the nearby village of Halesworth.

All we wanted was a casual supper that didn’t break the bank but also didn’t make us feel that we had wasted a meal. We drove from our country estate at Henham through rolling English countryside, bathed in a honeyed glow of evening sunshine in search of dinner. Unfortunately, Halesworth isn’t blessed with good looks. It’s as grim as Southwold is prim.

But luckily we weren’t there to eat the town. A simple menu laden with local produce and friendly staff greeted us with just enough warmth to cover up the fact that the pub was perilously quiet.

I devoured my ham hock terrine with Suffolk chutney and wholegrain toast like a man who’s just been on an impromptu 6.1 mile run with his triathlon mad girlfriend. O hang on! That is what happened! It was generosity on a plate and had me hooked.

Cowie’s home cured gravadlax was just as good. Or at least I assume it was because I was barely given a sniff. Both dishes were well executed and are just the sort of thing a friendly local pub should be feeding you with.

My comfort food craving continued as I tucked into one of the most satisfying plates of liver and bacon that I’ve had the good fortune to devour. Soft, slightly pink liver, sage potato cake and shards of crispy bacon accompanied by a pint of local beer had me lecturing Cowie on how this was close to being the Platonic Ideal of liver and bacon. But, I shan’t bore you with that.

Cowie’s cod crusted with herbs and breadcrumbs was well cooked, but suffered from a soggy crust and boring, steamed vegetables. This was our only low point and served to pin point the pub’s culinary ceiling.

The food was far from adventurous, but it was just what we wanted. Quality local ingredients cooked with skill and served by very friendly people. It’s not going to find its way into too many guidebooks or award ceremonies. But if every town had a pub like this, serving well cooked local food, the country would be a better place. All it needs is a few more people to give it some atmosphere.

Photos are from the Stables at Henham Park and the Triple Plea's website respectively - apart from the top one which is mine.

Monday 3 August 2009

Sketch Gallery - An Advertising Agency in Disguise?

“Arrive with an open mind and imagine, if you will, a painting that never dries” – (Mark Lawson Bell-Artistic Director)

Sketch is one of the most creative places I’ve been to. More playful than most art galleries. More imaginative than most theatre productions. And as creative as any advertising agency I’ve been involved with. Sketch is an art gallery, bar, living room, tea shop, restaurant, bonkers water closet and catwalk rolled into one. If you are the kind of person who likes ideas you’ll love it. You’ll drink it in and ask for more.

We were greeted by the most charming Maitre D’ we have ever encountered. Nothing was too much trouble and everything was done with a twinkle in the eye. He showed us around the whole building including being allowed to peak into the Lecture Room where a handful of lucky people were tucking into some Michelin starred food…

On our tour we fell in love with their eccentric taste in art. In particular the sculpture of two dogs going at it hammer and tongs and the glitter ball girl with syringes sticking out of her head! The whimsical art sets the tone for the creative food that we were to discover in the Gallery.

We were given the best seats in the restaurant with full view over everything. It was like being a dictator watching your troops do a big parade… except the troops were all girls and rather more glamorous than what your normally see on Newsnight. We sipped more champagne as a big ball bounced around the white walls, projected on the bare white walls. The Gallery is a blank canvas that is brought alive by a series of projectors that captures Mark Lawson Bell’s opening statement. Apparently the previous projection of an irritable fly sent everyone a bit mad!

The bread was so good that Cowie tucked in too. The fact that it was served in a basket made of Lego had me almost in tears with giddy joy. It transported me straight back to my childhood memories of messing around for hours, days, months and years with multi coloured bricks and little men with arms that don’t move very well. “Little touches” like this aren’t just good ideas they are moments of genius that have been dreamt up by someone who understands the way the mind works and should really work in advertising. I vaguely remember the bread being good (and if it hadn’t been the whole thing would have imploded), but it’s the Lego basket that has stayed with me. And the message encoded in the Lego basket is of playfulness and creativity.

Our starters were works of art that tasted almost as good as they looked.

Tahiti - ceviche of grouper, barramundi & red snapper marinated in coconut milk & lime was a platter of firm fish textures that aims to transport you to Tahiti, not that I’ve ever wanted to go. It was cool, light and full of tropical tones. Maybe it should have been called a Pina Colada though.

Cowie’s “Red Tuna” was a giggle. What we thought was tuna turned out to be watermelon! And then when the tuna was served it was soft and fiendishly good. Not sure we should be eating tuna though. Tut tut.

A shared bowl of ravioli with a chicken and gorgonzola broth was superb. The waiter almost refused to let us have them because he wanted them for himself. I couldn’t help myself from pouring more sauce over my pasta from a silver tea pot that I wanted Cowie to sneak into her handbag!

For some reason I chose beef tartare (diced rib-eye with mustard, gherkins, spring onions, capers, egg mollet, Espelette pepper, parsley, fondant potato, fresh spicy tomato). Get raw beef wrong and it’s not only dangerous, but also highly unpleasant. The next tartare I eat is going to have to be very good to beat this one.

Mediterranean cod was great fun. We almost sent the plate back at first as it looked like a mozzarella and tomato salad. But as Cowie started playing we realised that the soft white cheese was actually cod and the olives were dark green gnocchi. The dish had been styled by someone who likes to tease! The fish flaked. The dark green gnocchi were soft but had bite. It was a beautiful dish that reinforced sketch’s reputation for cooking fish.

Cowie loved Malabar. It is a dessert that has been inspired by a brand of French bubblegum. It’s one of the stars of the menu, but given that I don’t like bubblegum it isn’t for me.

My Cadiz was a brilliant rhubarb and orange number. It came with some rhubarb marmalade and shards of glassy rhubarb sticking out of some ice cream. Not only was it beautiful, but it acted as a giant palette cleanser. Any residual beefiness from the tartare was replaced by a feeling of freshness. It has inspired me to make some rhubarb marmalade.

Despite our banquet being at an end, the fun hadn’t stopped. My espresso was served in a flexible coffee cup that had a touch of Dali about it. And as for the Dr Evil loos… wow! I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

It wasn’t just a meal. It was a Hollywood assault on the senses. An uber-camp-experience that was fizzing with creativity and glamour. At sketch the idea comes first and then everything follows, just as it does in an ad agency. Rather than a kitchen it has a creative department. But it also comes with a bill so abrasive it is delivered in a sandpaper envelope. Luckily we’d taken advantage of their £50 off voucher on their facebook fan page and had held back on wine so whilst being so expensive it could cause a run on the Pound, was a fair price at 140 quid. Especially when you consider that the sketch experience means tickets for the theatre, art gallery and entry to a nightclub aren’t necessary.

Eating at sketch is like being a client and turning up to an advertising agency such as Mother where they will blow you away with their bonkers ideas and slick presentation and then send you an embarrisingly large bill. And sometimes their ideas will be full of hot air and hopeless. But because they are so fresh and original you'll pay the bill and tell your friends to go there too. Sketch - are you an advertising agency in disguise?

All the photos are from a nice person at sketch.


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