Posted on Wednesday, 27th May 2009
I have been eyeing up Launceston Place, a Modern British restaurant, for a little while, ever since Tristan Welch accepted the post of head chef in November 2007. After five months of planning and refurbishment, the restaurant reopened in March 2008. Tristan was previously at the two star Michelin restaurant Pétrus (which has now been renamed Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley) where he worked his way up from the position of junior sous chef to head chef in less than 18 months. With stints at Le Gavroche, and L’Arpège in Paris as well, it’s hard to overlook his culinary pedigree.
The restaurant is tucked away in the backstreets of Kensington, and is housed on land which was once part of the manor of Earl’s Court. The original structure of the restaurant (actually four houses joined together) was built circa 1839 and adds to the building’s sense of history. The façade is undeniably charming, but the interior of dark charcoal coloured walls and floors is austere, and rather harsh for a setting intended to exude old world charm.
Our visit took place a couple of weeks ago, but could you imagine my surprise when Tristan Welch popped up on the BBC2 programme, ‘Great British Menu’ as one of the contestants in the London heats last week?! And to top it off, he presented two dishes in the competition which were similar to what we ate during our dinner. I now feel like Tristan and I could almost be best friends…
I digress. We started our dinner with an amuse bouche of cauliflower soup and truffle crème fraiche. The advice given to us by the waiter was to down it in one go. I tried, but the soup turned out to be scalding hot which left me with a burnt tongue. The soup should not have been served at such a hot temperature. The taste was pleasant but it left a slightly astringent aftertaste, almost as if it was a little sour. Also, there wasn’t a strong discernible taste of truffle coming from the crème fraiche.
From the 3 course dinner menu of £42, our first starter was a drunken quail flambé with hazelnuts which proved to be a dramatic affair. Marinated for 24 hours in cognac, the quail was pan fried à la minute near our table, finished with cognac and then some chicken stock. The quail breast, cooked medium rare, was tender and delicious and was also served with some quail rillette. The rillette had been set for 24 hours with chervil and was meaty and tender, providing a lovely contrast to the dish. Creamy dots of hazelnut puree topped with crunch hazelnut added further depth. A second starter of “royal foie gras” with dark caramel was of a mousse-like texture: creamy and light the foie gras dissolved meltingly on your tongue. The dark caramel topping added a delicate sweet touch to the dish.
To mains and I greeted my ‘whole’ Denham Castle lamb, peas, mint and heirloom tomatoes with great expectations, (which co-incidentally turned out to be similar to the meat dish he presented on the ‘Great British Menu’ programme). As described to me by the waitress, the ‘whole’ lamb refers to the fact that you can pick your choice of cut from the lamb. I went for the best end lamb which was amazingly tender and pink, but which lacked the intensely meaty gamey flavour that I like in lamb. The accompanying side of pureed peas and minted peas was divine – the creaminess of the puree matched the firm crispiness of the peas perfectly, and the added mint tasted like a touch of summer. The heirloom tomatoes were sweet and juicy. However the dish came with no sauce, lamb jus, or the mint sauce he used in the programme. All the individual components of the dish were lovely and none were dry, but the lack of moisture on the plate did not really work for me.
A Tamworth suckling pig was cooked perfectly with ample juicy pieces of tender pork, and a lovely piece of crunchy crackling. It was served with a honey emulsion which added a dazzling touch to the dish. The emulsion was made from honey and olive oil and had the creamy texture of mayonnaise. The pork was bedded over a creamy mixture. When we asked the waitress what this was, we were told it was creamed potatoes. However, on tasting, it revealed itself to be creamed turnips.
Pre-dessert was a rhubarb and custard crumble served in a cone with ginger and orange sauce. This was a true delight, and it was also great fun to eat out of a cone. The rhubarb was not too tart, the custard was creamy and decadent, and when we got to the bottom of the cone, we were hit with a wave of intense orange and ginger flavour which provided a lovely taste sensation. This was the dessert he presented on ‘Great British Menu’, but without the ginger and orange sauce.
Dessert was a rice pudding soufflé with raspberry ripple ice cream. Essentially a soufflé with bits of rice littered through it, the rice gave the soufflé lots of bite and crunch, and the ice cream added a creamy, slightly fruity contrast to the dessert.
There were no petits fours with our coffee which I found disappointing. This is not a reflection on the restaurant (for by the time we finished our pre-dessert I was already full), just an expression of my personal love of sweet things. In the end I managed to make away with a little box of chocolates on departure. But make sure you ask for this as initially the restaurant forgot to give us one.
Overall, the food was excellent and the execution was technically sound. I did have a few minor quibbles for I wasn’t blown away by the too-hot cauliflower soup, and I thought the lamb lacked a binding component, eg, lamb jus (or mint sauce). But that said, there were also some outstanding, intense flavoursome moments, top of the list being the quail, the peas in the lamb dish, and the carrot and ginger sauce in the pre-dessert. The pork dish was really lovely too. At £42, it was a fair price for the quality of cooking and the fresh produce that had been presented to us. Our service was also charming and delightful, with one French waiter being particularly attentive to us. C’est la vie, perhaps it was because we were two girls…
Launceston Place also offers what I think might be one of the best priced lunch menus in London for this calibre of cooking (£18 for three courses). Sunday lunch is £24 for three courses, and if you get in between 6 and 6.30, there is an early bird special limited range three course dinner menu for £30. Not bad for this part of Kensington.
Launceston Place also offers an interactive experience in the private dining room that they call ‘The Chef’s Office’. Here, you can view the Chefs cooking on the plasma flat screen and interact with them.
Launceston Place at:
1a Launceston Place
London W8 5RL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7937 6912