Sunday, 6 October 2013

Respected, revered and admired - Mourad Mazouz and Sketch

We are fortunate to live in an era of unparalleled variety with regards to the cuisine available to us and the manner in which it is presented. From bakeries to burger joints, fast food or fine dining, there is now a near limitless array of restaurants, diners and eateries to satisfy any occasion or appetite.

For me however, eating out is all about escapism. Whoever you are, whatever you do, life is a challenge so when the opportunity arises for one to treat themselves or their loved ones, the experienced offered should be truly unforgettable. There are many marvellous restaurants in the UK, with exceptional food and impeccable service, but nowhere reflects the sense of wonder, excitement and intrigue quite like sketch in London.

To describe sketch is not an easy task. Set over two floors of a converted 18th century townhouse, it is split into several remarkable rooms, each more different than the next and each offering an incomparable experience to those lucky enough to visit. From the Martin Creed designed Gallery where every single piece of cutlery, tableware and furniture is different, to the alluring and enticing fairy tale forest that is the Glade, it encompasses that wonderful sense of theatre more completely than anywhere else I have visited, playfully toying with convention and encompassing not only elements of the fantastical, but the vaudeville and even the burlesque.

With superb, Michelin starred menus designed by master chef Pierre Gagnaire served in such an enchanting and inspiring setting I can say with some assurance that sketch is truly unique. It is one of my very favourite places to visit, so I was delighted to recently take the opportunity to ask the mastermind behind its conception, award winning restaurateur Mourad Mazouz a few quick questions…

Tell me about each of the rooms at sketch and the experience they offer.

sketch – “it is all in the amalgamation”..

Every single room holds unique identity, but somehow all adhere to all the notions of what sketch is about..

The Lecture Room & Library is the most formal dining experience sketch has to offer. It is a luxurious, comfortable and cultured fine dining space that harbours a breath-taking gastronomic experience. This restaurant holds two well-deserved Michelin Stars along with 5 AA Rosettes. The tasting and A La Carte menus are designed by the French master chef Pierre Gagnaire who allures the senses, educates and inspires his audience through artistically infused cuisine.  Additionally, the acclaimed wine list was awarded 'Best Award for Excellence' by the Wine Spectator and AA Guide's Best UK Wine List.

The Gallery restaurant is equally captivating but entirely exclusive to sketch. In the Gallery you will find an Art installation and a restaurant all combined under one single roof.  Martin Creed, the turner prize winning artist who is the vision and shell of the Gallery, set out to unite food and art in order to push the boundaries of conventional dining.  The atmosphere and vibe is buzzy and the modern European menu available to our diners is wonderfully imaginative and ground breaking. The Gallery also holds a quirky bar that intends to lead diners further into the depths of sketch. Elaborate cocktails can be sampled and excite an already inspired palate.

The parlour is home to some of the finest treats and cakes that you could ever imagine. Pluck a pastry from a carrousel looking cake stand and enjoy the merge of sweet and savoury. The ambiance is comfortable yet exciting and operates like a traditional vibrant French café where breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea can all be acquired until the last drink before home. The interior of the Parlour holds great visual flair; both quirk and grunge are embraced by the underling tradition of high tea thus making the experience further charming.

Our other afternoon tea room, the Glade, is a creative haven of antiquated enchantment. This reserved French fairy tale forest with hand crafted walls holds some of the most otherworldly wicker furniture imaginable. Lofty assortments of appetising macaroons and pleasant savouries offer true afternoon tea innovation. Caroline Quatermaine and Didier Mahieu have taken much inspiration from early 20th century.

Which is your favourite room and why?

I often feel like art is in my blood, it is my passion and so my favourite room has to be The Gallery. Through a series of functional and decorative new works Martin Creed has created an environment that is at once an exhibition, an artwork, a restaurant and an events space. There are 96 different types of marble zigzagging across the floor, along with large-scale wall paintings. But my favourite detail of the room is that every single piece of cutlery, every table and chair is individual and was handpicked by Martin and myself. It is important to always remember that design is the shell and the menu is the heart.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Mostly art. It is a talent to combine the most unusual in the most unexpected way.

How do you go about turning an idea or concept into a reality?

I like to consider space as a concept as opposed to a location. Space is like soil, where ideas grow out of it at different stages and times. My waking hours are spent predominantly planning the design and (hopefully) the subsequent atmosphere of my venues in my head. I want everything to be exactly how I envisage it to be. The devil is in the detail, I say, and I cannot function any other way. sketch was the triple dream, launching a centre, a “lieu” or destination place, for food, art and music. With a great team of chefs and designers we were able to create this vision over two expansive floors of a converted 18th century building on Conduit Street.

Are there any ideas you’ve had for the rooms at sketch that just haven’t been possible?

In Mary Poppins levitated dining is possible, but it isn’t real. There is no point in trying to emulate such an experience if it has to be done with strings and beams. If I were magic I would want my diners to sip tea on floating chairs.

sketch has rightly received wide acclaim, but also at times proved divisive amongst some critics. Why do you think this is and how much attention do you pay to outside opinion?

People have said that our food is over priced - our food is expensive, but not overpriced. I think restaurant critic A.A. Gill, summed us up perfectly 'The food is brilliant. The best in London. But you have to have eaten a lot to know just how incredibly clever it is. He's fighting against the British idea that, while you'd spend huge amounts on football tickets, you never would on food - not when you can get a whole chicken for three quid.' It is nice to be noticed and receive great awards and reviews, but the only applause I need is from customers. 

How is the food at sketch linked to the design?

Pierre Gagnaire's culinary genius has inspired the menus throughout sketch. His eponymous Michelin three-starred Paris restaurant has a distinctive menu style, which he has adapted for sketch. Executed by his acolytes, the food is imaginative, bold, ground-breaking and delicious. The Gallery is where this is most apparent - Pierre has designed the menu in collaboration with Martin Creed, experimenting and creating dishes directly influenced by Martin’s art.  

You opened your first bistro in 1988. What are some of the things you have learnt in the 25 years since and how has the restaurant industry changed?

Over the years I’ve learnt not to rush a project, I give time and care to each in order to make it the best. I focus on developing my places and expertise with discernment and no sense of urgency. I need to feel and experience the spaces I create as they come to life.

Also my success in both Paris and London led to many partnership offers from entrepreneurs and investors. I learnt to resist the temptation of an easy expansion, I know I wouldn’t be content with just replicating a certain style like a formula.
And lastly, it is better to do one thing and do it well, rather then try your hand at many different trades unsuccessfully. I’m not a chef nor am a businessman with a multitude of chain restaurant brands either. I’m a restaurant owner, this is what I am passionate about, food is the central element, and what I care about is the heart and soul of each and every restaurant I create.

What single piece of advice would you give to anyone wanting to start a restaurant?

I think passion is key, anything is possible once you have love for it. And don’t rush ideas, it is better to take time and get them just right. I'm a perfectionist, if I come in and something's not right, it breaks my heart.

With regards to restaurants what do you think will be the next big trend (and what do you hope it will be)?

I don’t like to follow trends, they are hard to predict and they never stay around for very long. However, I do think there has been a generational shift in culinary awareness, young people are now more interested in food.

What plans do you have for the future of sketch?

For me it’s all about moving forward, constantly evolving, hence why sketch is ever changing. When I told everyone the name I had chosen for sketch, people thought I was crazy. But like a sketch, you can rub out the edges and rework them – so this made sense to me and this is what I do daily. sketch is now a London institution, I would just want us to continue doing what we have been for years to come.

For more information, or to book a table at sketch please visit

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