More is most definitely more: Sketch, London.

It has long been a desire of mine to eat at the world renowned two Michelin Star 'Sketch' in London's Mayfair. I had been told tales of the opulent and imaginative setting, where the food is just as theatrical as the venue. But could it live up to the hype?

We arrived through the inconspicuous doors, and immediately you realise that all is not what it seems. Hopscotch is drawn on the floor, leading you down the rabbit hole, past the paperclip chains and the up the stairs, dripping with paint of various hues. Our host, beacons us to follow her up the stairs where for a moment we are kept in darkness when she suddenly pulls open the heavy double doors to reveal the main Lecture Room and Library. The grandure of the place is fabulous; I likened it to the main dining room in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel with it's mirrored walls, yellow paintings and pink carpet. The building itself is steeped in history and was the former Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and was also a central meeting space for the Suffragettes. 

One reviewer writes: Sketch is a complex and unique site. Conceived by French master chef Pierre Gagnaire and restaurateur Mazouz, it has attracted unprecedented media reaction for its myriad food, drink and entertainment styles since it opened in December 2002. Gagnaire's culinary genius has inspired the menus throughout sketch. His eponymous Michelin three-starred Paris restaurant has a distinctive menu style, which Gagnaire had adapted for sketch. Executed by his acolytes, the food is imaginative, bold, ground-breaking and delicious. These two visionaries have come together to create sketch...

Our menu:

Rainbow Radish/ Green Pea ice-cream

Crispy Hen Egg/ Asparagus/ sun-dried tomato

New potato salad/ Speck

Tapendade/ Aubergine Caviar/ Focaccia

Roasted Duck Breast/ Fine Beans/ Paris Mushrooms/ Grapefruit

Pierre Gagnaire combination of Three Desserts: 

Olive Cake/ Pineapple /Ice-cream

Parfait/ Coffee foam

Tropical Fruit Clafoutis/ Tarragon ice-cream

 

Out maitre d', Fabien, was courteous, friendly and charming throughout the service. tantalising our tastebuds with canapes, and then warming up with not one, but four starters. By this time our belly's were full but the main course of duck and then a further three desserts nearly killed us off. The food, was simply too good to forego. It was true storytelling on a plate; each course saying something different and took us on a journey of culinary discovery. Even the Japanese daikon with Campari sauce was challenging but intriguing at the same time. My personal favourite had to be the tropical fruit clafoutis with tarragon ice cream, or the Green Pea ice-cream. My husband could not get over the exquisite taste of the three different butters including seaweed and caramelised butter. Usually these accompaniments seems trivial and are overlooked, even in high end restaurants, however at Sketch, the fine attention to detail makes every mouthful a journey of discovery. 

To as lovely gesture, Fabien gave us a tour of the kitchens and other restaurants that are part of the sketch building, including the Gallery (where the Afternoon Tea looked divine), the Glade, the Parlour Room and the East Bar. However it was the toilets that stole the show! At the top of pristine white sets, highly polished by a lady in a French Maid's outfit were 8 foot goose eggs, doubling up as washrooms. The other toilets were bejewelled with Swarovski crystals in the shape of spider webs, with black mirrored glass and fairground music playing to add a further sense of surrealism.

There was some concern before we went that Sketch may be 'style over substance' but this was absolutely not the case. In this day and age of high consumerism, and fast culture it is hard to establish oneself without real substance. But Sketch manages to artfully provide a unique dining experience with fantastic technical cooking. I shall definitely be returning, as like any good painting, it shall always show you something new, in a different light.

Lymington

What a glorious day in Lymington today. The summer sun just pushing through the clouds as grockles caught crabs, licked lollies and chomped on fish and chips. We popped into the new Fish Market and was tempted by the oysters and prawns. We settled on having lunch at The Monkey House which does good honest pub grub. My sweet tooth was satisfied with the warm chocolate and pistachio brownie and the sticky toffee pudding. Scrumptious! Watch this space - Sole Food Safari are hoping to organise safaris in Lymington too! 

Cambridge: We ate, we saw we conquered Part 2

After a fairly heavy night on the sauce (thanks for Six bar at The Varsity, and Thaikun and then drinks at a friend's house...) we woke up in our beautiful B&B on Owlstone Road, just 15 minutes walk from the centre of Cambridge. Our room was relaxing and immaculate, with neutral shades and lovely quality touches, such as the little jar of homemade fudge, artisan hazelnut chocolate bar and big, soft, fluffy white towels. The best was yet to come with a delicious homemade breakfast, which would have given Marco Pierre White a run for his money. I had smoked salmon with scrambled eggs on toast, with a thin sweep of fresh horseradish to give it a little kick, sprinkled with course black pepper from two little oyster shells that sat neatly on the shabby chic wooden table in the homely kitchen. 

We strolled into town to the highlight of our trip - the Taste Cambridge Food Tour. If you are like me, and find that after a while you get 'history fatigue' on most tours (there's only so many buildings I can take before I'm more distracted by squirrels or my shoelace on traditional sightseeing tours), but when I heard about the Cambridge Food Tour my ears (and tastebuds) immediately pricked up. 'Discover Cambridge through the eyes of a foodie' was the tagline and I was sold.

We met Camilla, our guide, at Fitzbillies which was teaming with people, sniffing out the cakes, delicate macaroons and traditional puds. Camilla was friendly, outgoing and extremely knowledgeable. We tucked into sticky Chelsea Bun whilst finding out about the history of the cafe and the famous people around the world who have fallen in love at first sight with the beloved bun.

We were then swept into the bustling streets of Cambridge and into our next stop which was the Eagle Pub. We learnt about it's fascinating history - the links with the RAF, the graffitIed ceiling which has been perfectly preserved since WW2,  the ghost stories and terrible fires, and it's own DNA beer; aptly named after Crick and Watson announced in the pub that their scientific team had "discovered the secret of life", referring to the breakthrough in discovering the double helix structure of DNA. 

Just a few metres down the road we were introduced to Aromi; an authentic Sicilian cafe where the staff, ingredients, and decor are genuine.  We tried some delicious 'bread roses' which were made from sourdough (processed over 3 days) to make the light and fluffy dough, with a thin crispy crust, stuffed with aubergines, tomatoes and basil, and chocolate tarts and pistachio cream tarts which were TO DIE FOR. 

Sweet and savoury treats from Aromi

Sweet and savoury treats from Aromi

We then entered the market square which was packed full of pop-up street food vendors. We stopped for some falafel which was freshly cooked to order, delicately seasoned with lemon and herbs. Some people may turn their nose up at street food vendors, but often it's a great way for upcoming, passionate chefs to showcase their work, without the costly overheads of owning a premises. And when the food was that yummy, it didn't bother me that there was no table to sit at with pressed linen tablecloths and silver cutlery.  It's just good, honest, food.

Our next stop was the Cambridge Cheese Company where we tried a lovely British cheddar, along with a tasty pork pie, made by a 90 year old local husband and wife team. (That's what I call serving your nation!) They also had an impressive selection of hot sauces, but we steered clear of these for obvious reasons!  We washed this down with a local apple juice before setting off to sample fudge. The lively staff in Fudge Kitchen were keen to hand out free samples whilst wearing t-shirts emblazoned with 'Judge My Fudge'. Well, it would be rude not to. So we happily obliged and tried chocolate with sea salt, peanut butter and Eton Mess flavours. The secret to their fudge is that they add cream, rather than butter to give it a silky smooth texture.

 

Next on the culinary agenda was d'Arrys. This trendy bar and restaurant was eclectically decorated, and the smiley waitress explained how they may their own Pimm's using Gin, Vodka and Vermouth. This slipped down beautifully as we noshed on flatbreads with different toppings; tomato, duck and goats cheese, along with chicken wings with sweet chilli sauce, and a fish platter. We rested here awhile and it was lovely to chat to the other foodies on our tour. Most were locals and keen to discover their home city in a different way. Some had travelled from London and The Netherlands. You would think that after two hours of touring and talking food, that we may have run out of food related topics, but this only seemed to inspire and spur the conversation on. These were my kind of people. 

 

Without losing pace or enthusiasm, Camilla marched us over to the other side of the city to the backstreets of town where we went into a tiny little Portugese cafe (North Street Bakery) where we were offered salt-cod croquettes and Pastel de Nata. As mentioned before, I have a fairly sweet tooth and these Portugese custard tarts were out of this world! So much so, I had to buy extras to take home for family, friends, neighbours, the milkman....everyone needed to know how good these are! We then walked further into the heartlands of Cambridge to the Caverley Brewery. This tiny little micro-brewery in a slightly extended garage at the end of a residential street was home to the Caverley Brothers who ditched their 9-5 jobs in favour of making home brewed beer. Steak and Honour also had their tin truck parked at the end of the street, for punters in-the-know to match their beer with a hearty hamburger. The whole place oozed 'hipster cool' but with the quality and reputation to smash any doubts that this is just a passing phase. Our selection of beers took us on a flavour adventure, from light, golden hops, through warm earthy tones to treacly bitters. 

Our final stop was at '6' Gelato Bar in the centre of town where the daily flavours are dependent on their fresh ingredients and are churned in front of you. With unlimited toppings of homemade honeycomb, sprinkles, nuts and chocolate flakes, it's easy to see why 6 has a permeant queue of people out their door, especially on a hot sunny day. I tried the Cambridge Cream ice-cream which was deliciously smooth, along with the Strawberry and Basil Sorbet- perfectly refreshing and well needed after the 5 mile hike round the beautiful city.

After a long, hot, day pounding the streets of Cambridge, I can honestly say that our Cambridge Food Tour absolutely lived up to expectations. I was impressed with the vast array of food we got to sample and along with the interesting history and stories, felt that I had experienced the city in a way we never could have done alone. The research and expertise of our tour guide was extensive, and the tour was perfectly timed and executed. I loved the range of British and international food on offer and the handy map that was given to us at the end of the tour would allow us to return as pro-Cambridge-foodies! If you love food, you MUST do this tour! 

www.cambridgefoodtour.com