Sketch owner Mourad Mazouz has recounted the “hysterical” reaction the London restaurant received when it opened 15 years ago, as he set out the struggles of the early years of the business.
Speaking at a dinner to celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary, Mazouz explained that the eccentrically designed operation – which includes the Gallery restaurant and two-Michelin-starred Lecture Room & Library run by Pierre Gagnaire – opened in 2002 after four years of building work having gone “millions over budget”.
The concept was largely misunderstood in the early days, Mazouz added. He said that The Guardian’s Matthew Fort described the design concept as “a lot of bollocks”, while a review in The Independent labelled it “the most disgusting restaurant in Britain” under the title “Dog’s breakfast and baby sick”.
In a period in which Mazouz said the business had “pretty much every insult in the book thrown at us”, Marina O’Loughlin described it as the most absurd restaurant in the country, asking: “Is Jeff Koons cooking?”
“Worse,” quipped Mazouz. “It’s the great artist Pierre Gagnaire.”
But despite the early criticism, Sketch’s fortunes changes when the late AA Gill, writing in The Sunday Times, gave the Gallery 5/5 and the Lecture Room & Library 4/5.
Mazouz said: “It was the first article that was good on Sketch and from this moment people understood what we were doing was not idiotic.
“We made many mistake and were millions over budget – I know because I’m still paying. But we learned so much along the way and I’m proud that we are here 15 years on and that Sketch has become a huge success.”
He added that he was proud that the “loyal and strong” Pierre Gagnaire had joined him in the project.
Gagnaire said: “When I first spoke with Mourad immediately I felt it was the possibility to weave an incredible story. And it is incredible. Each time I come there is always something different in the details. It’s so pleasant to work like that.
“This is a sketch, it’s not finished, but we can say we have the roots for more success.”