Afternoon tea originated around the 1840s in Britain and was usually reserved for the wealthy upper classes, clinging onto a somewhat stuffy and overly traditional ritual. Today the custom is enjoying a breath of fresh air, morphing into a trendy and accessible part of British culture, and nowhere is this truer than at Mourad Mazouz and Pierre Gagnaire’s latest creation: The Gallery at Sketch London, which opened its doors on 6th June this year.
Redesigned following Martin Creed’s eccentric commission in 2012, Paris-based architect India Mahdavi has transformed the Gallery into a kingdom of candyfloss-pink velvet with flashes of bright copper metalwork that provides a canvas for artwork by David Shrigley. Upon arrival we are greeted by a hostess – a vision in elegant magenta chiffon and silver accessories – who glides over the subtlely-colourful marble chevron floor to show us to our table. The building at 9 Conduit Street, designed by James Wyatt in 1779, was previously the home of the RIBA and then the atelier of legendary fashion designer Christian Dior. This makes for an impressive aura before you even consider the interior redesign.
The tables are small and numerous however, rather than feeling uncomfortably close to our neighbours, the atmosphere is cosy. Perhaps this proximity balances out the effect of the incredibly high domed ceiling that adds grandeur to an already vast space. Madhavi has clearly made ‘shape’ a key feature of her concept. The custom-made chairs have what I can only describe as a snug 3D scalloped design that curves around you, upholstered in pale pink velvet. The texture softens the shiny copper finish that gleams around the base of both chairs and banquettes, as well as from the simple light fittings that adorn the walls. A mellow music plays in the background and every so often you hear the muffled sound of French efficiency as waitors and waitresses pass by.
One of the first things to catch my eye is the much talked-about ceramics range designed by artist and Turner Prize nominee David Shrigley. The 22 pieces are manufactured exclusively for Sketch by ceramics company Caverswall and will go on sale online this August, with the proceeds going to charity. If you’re seeking a quirky touch for your kitchen (that also happens to be dishwasher-safe), look no further!
The pieces are all white with various simple black designs, inviting the guests to engage directly with the artwork – one of the underlying concepts behind the whole Gallery experience. The illustrations are unexpected, in true Shrigley style. At the bottom of my cup of Whole Lemon Verbena tea reads the message FORGET ABOUT IT … which seems odd until you take a closer look at the 239 illustrations that cover the walls, taking ‘controversial’ to a whole new level. The collection as a whole is as unobtrusive as each individual piece is, in Shrigley’s own words, ‘hard to avoid’. There is no particular pattern or theme to the drawings, but they are all identically framed in a light wood and hang uniformly on three sides of the room, reinforcing the atmosphere of organised chaos.
Shrigley’s creations are not, however, the only works of art in the Gallery; Gagnaire’s afternoon tea is a masterpiece in itself. It is for this reason that the world-class chef insisted that the centre of the plates be left white in order to give him room to work his culinary magic. We start with a glass of Pommery Apanage Rosé, as recommended by the waiter calmly circulating the room with a customised pink champagne trolley.
A three-tiered afternoon tea tray displays an exquisite selection of finger sandwiches (of which the mozzarella and pesto croque monsieur was an unexpected favourite), sitting below an array of delicate sweet nibbles such as mini coffee éclairs and the elusive sketch opera (a chocolaty mystery), topped by two strawberry cheesecakes in slender glasses. Not forgetting of course the traditional scones accompanied by delicious homemade strawberry and fig jams.
All in all, it was a sweet, and sophisticated afternoon and one that will stay in my pink ridden dreams forever.
What are some of your favourite culinary treats?
Yours in Design,