(AKA: The great British treat of extended pinkies and wasted afternoons.)
(Editor’s note: This post was written by XFE. Check back on Monday for the MUCH shorter “Hers” version of our tea at Sketch.)
This post is most likely a bad idea and will get me in trouble.
But somewhere during a very lovely afternoon spent with Sheryll in London in March, we hatched the idea to do a “His-and-Hers” take on the same British tea experience.
This tea outing was something that Sheryll wanted to do and I truly went in to it indifferent, having no real prior knowledge of what to expect.
Let me just say on the outset that I had a really lovely afternoon. While I am not sure she felt that was true at the time (due to my non-stop joking) and I know she will not believe me now after she reads the rest of this post (due to my continuing non-stop joking).
But in all seriousness it was a great experience doing something new with the person I love. The post has merely been crafted to engage readers through the more entertaining aspects of the experience and not comment on the truly lovely time I had with Sheryll.
Now on to putting another nail in my coffin.
As we have been covering recently, Sheryll and I spent a week in London for her birthday and my football obsession. One of the things on our Sheryll’s list was afternoon tea. I had never been to afternoon tea so was not really sure what to make of her desire to go to tea other than, when in England, go to afternoon tea.
I am pretty sure that leading up to the trip Sheryll was expecting me to not want to go to tea or complain about going to tea or something, but I really just did not know what to expect and so I was not excited or uninterested, just uninformed. Nonetheless on a couple occasions leading up to the trip, Sheryll offered for us not to go to tea, all which I rebuffed.
With that said, upon arrival in London I took to drinking tea like an ex-pat returning home. Every morning I had my tea with sugar and milk and often was ordering refills while the first pot steeped. So after five days of living the tea life, our afternoon tea arrived.
Apparently, tea can be quite fancy and Sketch is apparently one of those fancy places while also being known for being hip and quirky. So, smartly dressed in denim, blazer and pocket square, we headed out for tea. Located a 10 minute walk from the hotel, we strolled through Piccadilly Circus and past shopping to reach Sketch.
The townhouse exterior immediately gave way to the “quirky” lobby and hostess stand. Hints of Johnny Depp (minus the divorce and battery charges) in Alice in Wonderland were ever present as tea cups lined the brightly colored and fanciful walls of the dark floored entry. A few steps down the stairs landed you in front of a large rotating false wall portal where coats could be checked.
A few more steps presented a room with walls painted like a fairy forest and long bar along one wall. The wood floor was covered by small tables surrounded by chairs and benches made of bent tree branches and covered in florals. It was part tea party and part Monet garden party. It was a little quirky and weird but would be a perfectly acceptable place to spend the afternoon snacking and drinking. But wait, this was not for us, we continued deeper into the building.
Down another short hallway we reached a pink velvet curtain covered doorway. Pushing aside the curtain we entered the main Sketch tea room. It was, it is, PINK! Bar along one wall, pink walls screaming skyward to the pink 35-foot-ceiling overhead, plush velvet booths and tables around the outside and strategically placed in the middle of the room, everything was PINK.
Seated at one of the center booths, I had my back to most of the dining room, but was presented with a gorgeous view of my date and the pink walls adorned with David Shrigley drawings.
A quick departure here from my experience, but this whole Sketch place/idea is based on a concept dreamt up and implemented by Chef Pierre Gagnaire and restauranteur Mourad Mazouzo, who apparently had a concept described as “The triple dream of launching a centre, a ‘lieu’ or destination place, for food, art and music.” As such the tea room is actually called “the gallery” and adorned with 239 new works from Shrigley, “the gallery” represents his single largest collection of original drawings. Yep! Go ahead. YAWN! It is ok.
In the end this “Triple Dream” resulted in a pink room with walls covered in cartoon art where you are served flavored water and white-bread, classic recipe sandwiches. I do a little dreaming of my own every once in a while and let’s just say my “triples” take me down a different path.
Seated in “the gallery,” we were presented with menus and options for cocktails, etc. Being a little uncertain of what we wanted, we putzed around on a decision of having regular tea, champagne tea or regular tea and adding a whole bottle of champagne. In the end, I forced Sheryll into option 3 and we were off to the races.
While the Shrigley art adorned the walls the real highlights of the room were the people.
First, directly behind Sheryll and in my line of sight were a couple in their late 20s, very well dressed with Louis Vuitton totes and bags in tow. The gentleman was dressed in flowing silk blouse, long neckerchief and highly polished designer ankle boots with a heel. The young lady had a knee length black skirt and white wrap blouse covering a very ample bosom.
I highlight the young lady’s attributes only because the next 45 minutes of my tea time involved watching said young women pull her slightly undersized wrap blouse closed as her chest tried to make an escape for the biscuits and clotted cream.
Look, I am a fan of breasts. But ladies it is critical to dress them appropriately. This idea that you are going to wear something that constantly requires tugging, pulling, lifting and adjusting to maintain your dignity is not realistic, and quite honestly, is distracting me from my flavored water.
Meanwhile, next to us on the right were two older proper British mums, who talked quietly while sipping on their tea. The perfect image of what you expect British tea to be.
Next on the list of high tea participants were a large Asian contingent, who were at tea to snap pictures of everything, I mean everything, while quickly downing tea, champagne and finger foods at a rapid pace. It was truly amazing to watch six people sit in a corner booth hardly saying anything as they work through several courses taking pictures to only get a check and rush out to the next tourist experience and Facebook moment. I guess in the end it is about checking items off the list and not paying enough attention to write amazing “his and hers” blog posts.
Finally, after our first couple left, they were replaced by two late 20s females out for tea in their best designer duds. Here the photographs were being taken at a pace slightly less rapid than the Asian crew, but the big difference is that one or both of the young ladies needed to be in each shot. I am pretty sure they did not have a selfie stick, because I seem to remember the wait staff being enlisted as photographer, but nonetheless, every step of the tea experience was documented from multiple angles for what I am sure is a hoard of Instagram followers.
I know, I know enough about the people, hurry up and get to the good part, The Tea.
So with champagne popped and poured, it was time for the very important tea selection. Reviewing an extensive menu, I quite honestly was overwhelmed, there must have been anywhere between 10 and 20 different varieties for different symptoms and/or moods. In the end I believe I selected “Earl Grey Supreme,” described as “refreshing and sweet, with lifted citrus charm freshening the structured tenacity of the Ceylon leaf. A perfectly focused classic.” The tea arrived and it was lovely, and after adding just the right amount of cream, I leaned back to take my first sip.
Tea, Check. Champs, Check. Now, the snacks. The three-tiered tray arrived carrying an assortment of Britain’s finest white bread with stuff. As you might have guessed, I was a little underwhelmed in this department. Smoked salmon with tarragon cream. Ok. Egg salad made with quail egg and topped with caviar. Fine. Warm bread with cheese. Improving. But it was all just standard. No wow factor, no new or interesting combination.
Worst yet was the pre-made quality to all of it. I am sure that the little sandwich elves arrive bright and early to mix, slather and stack bread into neat little piles. Only to be left sitting in a cooler for the next several hours until presented to guests. These sandwiches were what I had expected of afternoon tea and I was not disappointed, but yet I was. I mean come on, a little creativity, heck a decent slice of sourdough could have taken these little “treats” from a 4 to an 8.
But plain white bread tastes like plain white bread, no matter what you put on it. So as the Asians photographed and Facebooked every morsel, I picked around the edges, ordered a refill of the ones with cheese and tried to convince Sheryll we should stop for a kebab on the way home.
Next up were the scones with clotted cream and jam. Pretty good, and not a bad experience for my first clotted cream. Not sure where I see this fitting in the tea progression, after the sandwich debacle seems like this might be time for the roasted duck breast or seared foie, but oh well.
Finally, desert. In addition to a selection form the trolley we were also presented with another three tiered tray, stacked with cakes and cookies; Guariguette Strawberry tartlet, Sketch Battenberg cake, Yorkshire rhubarb cheesecake, Malabar Marshmallow, etc. All lovely little bites and perfectly fine desserts, just not sure I needed so many of them and if good dessert makes up for a busted sandwich.
Sheryll’s awe and amazed look after a visit to the loo meant that I now needed to make the visit. Down the hall I was first greeted by a large dome shaped bar with stairs leading up each side.
Climbing the stairs led to a large room with stained glass ceilings and egg shaped pods scattered across the room. Each pod turned out to be a sort of high-end Porta-potty connected to indoor plumbing.
Emerging, I found sinks tucked in dark corners and stood drying my hands in amazement at the quirky places people decide to spend their design mojo. Really an interesting place and cool to see, but not exactly a place you can sit and enjoy the quirkiness of it all.
Seated again with Sheryll, we finished our last sips of champagne, paid and headed out into the brisk London afternoon.
Time wasted? No way! It was a great afternoon spent being British and doing it with my love. So, pinkies up and cheers until the next tea!
Finally, I will leave you with this. The below picture is an actual picture of Taylor Swift leaving Sketch. If her matching pink outfit does not say it all about “His” or my take on Sketch, well then you deserve to be team Taylor. This author is Team Calvin! #Teamcalvin #AresenalWankers