Glade is the new daytime restaurant at Sketch. It’s called Glade because the interior design is meant to evoke a forest rather than, say, those awful air-fresheners used by lower-income types because they cannot afford fresh flowers daily, but still. It’s a crap name and there you have it and I’m not saying that there aren’t times when you need to mask bad odours, only that you wouldn’t find Stella McCartney using it. It is very important, nowadays, to know how to scent your lifestyle. Or, as Jo Malone puts it, ‘Fragrance is a brilliant way to decorate your environment!’ It also, I would add, saves on paint and wallpaper paste and getting the step-ladder out.
Anyway, Sketch is on Conduit Street, round the corner from Oxford Circus, so it’s past Topshop and Hermes and Shelley’s and all the other high-street shops that are great once you have managed to elbow though all those prowling gangs of crop-topped teens (I always find an umbrella with a poisoned tip helps). The building itself, which used to be headquarters for the Institute of Architects, is an 18th-century beauty now stuffed with all manner of high-design bollocks: chairs melting out of walls, moving, mechanical artworks, video projections and toilets which are egg-shaped pods (for all your egg-shaped, toilety needs, presumably) reached via runway lights–pink for girls, blue for boys, yet no alternating ones for trannies, which seems like a missed opportunity.
I know this kind of whimsy cuts it for some, and I’m not saying it isn’t a bit fun, but after a recent stay at the Hudson Hotel in New York, designed by Philippe Starck and described as “the ultimate lifestyle hotel for the 21st century’, I’ve decided I’ve had enough and will take my ultimate yet unfragranced lifestyle elsewhere in future, thanks very much. The bedside light was such a complex work of art I never figured out how to turn it on.
The reception also doubled as a thumping nightclub, which is just what you want when you arrive at 2 a.m. after a long-haul flight and are still wearing your thrombosis socks (it’s amazing I didn’t pull). I’ve always wondered who stays at the Holiday Inn, Hanger Lane, but now the prospect seems wholly appealing. I think that, from now on, I will book my ultimate lifestyle there and perhaps stay up all night playing with a bedside light which is just that.
Of course, Sketch–which also houses a bistro called The Gallery and a gourmet restaurant called The Library & Lecture Room, which recently won its first Michelin star–has the most tremendous credentials, having initially been put together in 2002 by businessman Mourad ‘Momo’ Mazouz and French culinary deity Pierre Gagnaire. I’ve previously eaten in The Library & Lecture Room, and while heart-stoppingly expensive–some entrees come in at 90 [pounds sterling]–it was piercingly sublime, worth every bloody penny. I didn’t see Stella McCartney there, but there were many other cutting-edge, cool, Diptyqueloving types, some with ‘I’ve already made a lot of money and it works for me’ practically tattooed on their foreheads. Scary.
Anyway, Glade is different, a step down, both literally and metaphorically. It’s in the basement, where the West Bar used to be, and where the blue and pink runways divide, thus confusing trannies everywhere. I must say the forest evocation appears a little half-hearted. True, there is a spectacular chandelier constructed from branches, but aside from that a green carpet and pink, jewelled walls (in a forest?) don’t exactly make you think Epping or Black, but it’s quite funky all the same. The menu is not divided into starters and mains, as portions are small and can be either, and the prices are surprisingly sensible: some dishes only six quid; wines that start at 13 [pounds sterling]. More, you can smoke, anywhere and everywhere, which is something of a novelty these days. How long, I wonder, before restaurants are divided into ‘caffeinated’ and ‘decaffeinated’ sections? And how long after that before the caffeinateds are made to go and caffeinate on the street? Not long, I suspect.
I start with the steak tartare (9 [pounds sterling]), a dish I love mostly for its joyous disregard for any health and safety regulations, and it is divinely divine. It comes in the shape of a mini-sandcastle, is studded with espelette peppers, but it’s the meat that does it: velvety, silky, exquisitely tenderised, subtly spiced but not over-played-with. It’s served with a fondant potato and fresh spicy tomato sauce in a shot glass, which I have to say wasn’t to my taste, being both over-watery and unnecessary. I do think such obviously stupendous and fresh ingredients should be allowed to talk for themselves.
Next, I have the cuttlefish and Welsh mussels, marinated with ginger, tomato, tamarillo, beetroot, hake cream and green apple (9 [pounds sterling]). Again, a little too much going on, with so many flavours competing you can’t tell what’s what, but the cuttlefish, which can, like squid, be rubbery, is anything but. It’s all soft and yielding, like the most heavenly melting ribbons. My friend Lisa has a piece of sirloin (9 [pounds sterling]) so fabulously rare it almost moos, yet served with caramelised sardines. Again, a lot going on, and unnecessarily complicated, but you can’t help admire the intricacy and imagination involved. It’s absolutely a kitchen that basically knows what it’s doing.
Lunch for three (with no wine) cost about 100 [pounds sterling], which I don’t think unreasonable. I imagine it will attract quite a few ladies who lunch, possibly coming more from the New Bond Street direction than the Oxford Circus one, even though spearing teenagers with poisoned umbrellas can work up quite an appetite. I should also add that the service is good without being creepy and I was never made to feel like the non-cool, un-Stellaish arse that I am. Now, that’s it for this week, as I am a very, very busy person with a lifestyle that requires scenting. I’m off to figure that out now. Toodle-pip!
Glade at Sketch, 9 Conduit Street, London W1. 0870 777 4488.