This long-standing restaurant has been the subject of sleek renovation during spring 2008 and now boasts dark, muted walls, crisp white table linen and head chef Tristan Welch (previously of Petrus) cooking up a sumptuous storm in the kitchen. It is positively tucked away at the end of a residential Kensington street, but is worth seeking out. When we eventually figured out how to get in (three doors, only one that opens) we took up the waitress’s suggestion of a drink at the bar and shook ourselves out of our coats. We gazed at the sobering off-black walls, and a light that looked like a magnificent jellyfish, about to land on our table with its illuminated tendrils spiralling down towards our martinis.
Whilst we sipped, we were given menus to glance over and noticed a very reasonably priced tasting menu on offer. Diners can fork their way through six courses for £45.00 (12.5% service added), with an additional option of wine matching with every course for another £30.00 (courtesy of the Launceston Place sommelier). The tasting menu serves up six dishes from the a la carte menu, so if you’re hopeless at making up your mind or just love trying as much as you can from a menu – this is for you. It’s also worth noting that one of us did opt for the tasting menu and came away feeling not in the slightest bit full, but just very comfortably satisfied with no need for belt adjustments, or the more dreaded extreme of button-popping.
By the time we were ushered to our table, we had virtually made up our minds and ordered the tasting menu and the home smoked Scottish salmon, followed by the lamb. I also opted for the wine matching to accompany the tasting menu and the sommelier promptly came over to explain what he would be serving up at each course. If you frequent the odd posh restaurant and often balk at the thought of striking up a conversation with the sommelier – don’t. More often than not, the information you’ll receive is invaluable and our sommelier proved his worth throughout the evening, talking us through the wines we were sampling and introducing us to some wonderful flavours for our mouths to get acquainted with.
Before we received any of our orders, a little taster of cauliflower velouté with truffle oil and crème fraiche arrived in front of us. Light and savoury, it was a teaser of what was to come, and we sat back and waited expectantly for the rest. As we waited we noticed rather a lot of waiter-pacing occurring, with the early evening slump rendering one or two of the staff redundant. Thankfully as the minutes went on, the pacing ceased as waiters who had been standing to attention were soon occupied with new arrivals coming through the door. As the tables filled up we also felt less inclined to whisper – Launceston Place can feel a little intimidating when you’re sharing a room with one other table and a glut of pacing waiters, so we breathed a welcome sigh of relief as the evening’s progress secured an increase in diners and table talk.
Our meal, in its many stages was wonderful. The staff at Launceston Place brought a touch of food theatre to the dining room on various occasions throughout the evening with drunken quail flambéed in front of guests before being served up to their tables. We had a touch of our own food theatre when the waitress set down the salmon starter on the table, and released the glass lid, whipping up the smoke inside into a plume above the dish. A good little touch considering the last thing you want is a facial steam from your first course – and always handy to have a waiter ready to deal deftly with such intricacies. The smoke and steam rose up into the air in one elegant plume and we giggled to ourselves with child-like delight, before tucking in.
Wine highlights came early on with our meal, when the sommelier poured a glass of 2006 New Zealand Hunter’s Sauvignon blanc to match the scallops served up with wild sorrel and apple. The wine was crystal-fresh and wonderfully clean against the rich mouthful of scallop. (If you fancy dedicating an evening at home to you and a bottle of white, this Sauvignon wouldn’t be a bad place to start). The culinary highlight came in the shape of the third course of the tasting menu: soufflé Diana with mustard ice cream and a smoked egg & cress sandwich. The soufflé was full of goat’s cheese-inspired wizardry and the ice cream was light enough to contrast the richness of the soufflé without tipping the flavour scales over the edge. Courses of foie gras, Longhorn beef, poached carp and bitter lemon slice ensued, with the sirloin of Longhorn beef winning favour all around. Each slice of pink beef was soft and juicy and despite the fact that this was tasting course number five, I was still left feeling superbly well-fed, but with room for a little more. This course incidentally was also matched with a rather fantastic glass of Argentinean 2006 Clos de Los Siete, Mendoza, which the sommelier knowledgably supplied. Puddings for us were not quite so much of a highlight, but it was going to be hard to match the meal we had consumed so far, and the desserts were rather upstaged by the complimentary sweet course we received which comprised egg shells filled with vanilla custard and crushed hazelnuts, complete with caramel sticks and served up on a silver platter. Yes I’ll have that for pudding please. Everyday. For the rest of my life.
Launceston Place has a sense of understated occasion about it. The decorative tones are coolly muted, but achingly stylish and we felt decidedly spoilt for the duration of our meal. Staff are of the old-school approach to fine dining: impressively knowledgeable, professional and charming. Match that with a contemporary approach in the kitchen to cooking traditional classics and you have a restaurant that will garner attention from miles around.
Pricing: Six course tasting menu: £45.00 (wine matching option a further £30.00). Menus include a set lunch £19.00 for two courses, £24.00 for three courses and a three course dinner menu £35.00.
Launceston Place: 1a Launceston Place, London, W8 5RL. Tel: 020 7937 6912
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar