Launceston Place has a cosy feel to it, with several small carpeted dining areas in a smart neighbourhood. The new head chef Tim Allen was the senior sous chef at two-Michelin starred Whatley Manor. The menu offers a set of appealing British dishes, with three courses priced at £46 and a tasting menu at £60. The wine list is extensive, with over 325 selections, ranging in price from £24 to £1,800. With an average price of £78 and an average mark-up of a touch over three times retail price, which no longer seems outrageous in London. Example wines include Etienne Guigal Crozes Hermitage 2009 at a steep £56 for a wine that you can find for £12 in a shop, the lovely Jermann Vintage Tunina 2009 at £89 for a wine that costs £31 in a shop, and 2006 Alion at £118 for a wine that you can find for £49 if you look hard enough. The list has grander wines such as Vega Sicilia Unico 1999 at £400 for a wine that you can buy in a shop for £185, and Lafite 1962 at £1,510 for a wine that averages £658 to purchase retail. Be aware that the on-line list seems out of synch with the wine list actually presented in the restaurant. Mineral water was £4 a bottle.
Bread is bought in from a bakery called Flourish in Tottenham. White and brown slices were offered, the white better than the brown, but although decent enough the bread lacked flavour (3/10); this is an area for future improvement. The meal began with gougeres that were very good: the choux pastry was a little firm for my taste but the mixed cheese filling delivered plenty of flavour – an enjoyable start to the meal (easily 6/10). An amuse bouche of mushroom soup with nut oil had deep flavour, accurate seasoning, and a few hazelnuts at the bottom of the cup adding a little texture (6/10).
Wild salmon was the only real mis-step of the meal. The salmon itself had good flavour, but the cooking left it somewhat dried out, especially at the surface. This was a pity, as the pea puree with the salmon was very good, and the sausage slices added an interesting additional flavour to the dish (4/10). Better was hot kitchen-smoked mackerel with piquillo pepper and lemon confit, plus a few shrimps. The mackerel was excellent, as was the carefully cooked pepper, though I am not sure what the shrimps really added to the dish; the lemon confit was fortunately well controlled, adding balancing acidity to the inherent oiliness of the mackerel without being dominant (5/10).
Turbot was served on the bone and was served with asparagus, peas, broad beans, cep cream and reduced Madeira. The turbot was carefully cooked and the vegetables had good flavour, the cep cream adding a nice earthy note to the dish (6/10). Pork tenderloin was also enjoyable, served with crisp pig head, cabbage pickled with a little cumin, truffled pork sauce and a celeriac and truffle puree. The pork was tender and had good flavour, the cabbage was crisp and a good balance for the pork, the celeriac bringing an earthy flavour element (6/10).
A pre-dessert of lemon and rosemary cream seemed to me a slightly odd idea. I love lemon, and I love rosemary, but not on the same plate. Given that the customer has no choice over a pre-dessert, why not place shrubbery-based dessert on a menu and produce a pre-dessert that is less contentious? For dessert, baked custard was served with poached rhubarb, apple and ginger ice cream. The rhubarb was nicely balanced, not too tart, and the baked custard had good texture (5/10). Raspberry soufflé did not rise perfectly but tasted good nonetheless, and the raspberry ice cream and raspberries were good (6/10).
Coffee (£4.50) was pleasant, served with good orange Madeleines, pleasant raspberry jelly and strawberry marshmallow. The bill, with nice wine and pre-dinner drinks, came to £132 a head. Overall, although the new kitchen team has a few wrinkles to iron out, I really enjoyed the meal this evening. Service was top notch, and I look forward to returning. For me the cooking has improved significantly compared to previous meals I have eaten here.
Below are notes from a previous meal in 2008.
It is years since I have been to Launceston Place, a cosy restaurant nestled in a quiet Kensington street. The dining room is split into several small rooms, with long picture windows, dark brown walls with Victorian prints and, a nice surprise, carpet: a nice change from the ubiquitous noisy wood floors that make conversation a struggle in busy restaurants. There is banquette seating with beige upholstery and no muzak. The new regime here is D&D restaurants (ex Conran) with a chef, Tristan Welch, who was head chef at Petrus. These are notes from a meal when Tristan was head chef.
The three course dinner menu is £42, with a weekday lunch menu at £18. The 11 page wine list was full of very good growers, but at a price. Examples were Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006 at £70 for a wine that costs around £28 in the shops, the lovely but rare Kistler Vine Hill 2005 at £205 for a wine that can (with difficulty) be purchased for about £65, and the excellent Jermann Vintage Tunina 2006 at a hefty £85 for a wine you can buy for £26 retail. The sommelier, Mickey, was previously at 11 Madison Park in New York and really knew his list. While you browse the menu and wine list you can snack on parnsip chips.
Bread was a choice of brown or sourdough slices from the Flour Station, one of the better London bread suppliers (5/10). An amuse-bouche of a little cup of cauliflower soup had very good flavour and was well seasoned; I was less sure about the crème fraiche layer with truffle oil on the top, which for me added nothing (5/10). A starter of seasonal asparagus was well cooked, served with “egg and cress sandwich” which was really a little poached egg and cress on a piece of toast (4/10). I preferred a pair of quail breasts that had been marinated in alcohol, then flambéed in a pan at the table, served with rilette of quail and little dots of hazelnut puree. The quail had excellent flavour and the breast meat was nicely cooked (6/10).
For the main course we both had “crayfish pie”. This was actually a potato crust (not pastry) made from eel, coley and crayfish. It was well-seasoned and enjoyable, though the crayfish was, to put it mildly, not the main component; the eel was good however, and the potato top nicely judged (4/10). A pre-dessert of rhubarb and custard crumble ice cream had a little blood-orange juice and a hint of ginger, and was refreshing (5/10). My main dessert of rhubarb cheesecake was very well made, the texture excellent, the rhubarb taste well balanced, served with yoghurt and honeycomb (6/10). Service was excellent throughout the evening.
The notes below are from a meal in April 2008.
The waiting staff are now smartly dressed in matching brown suits, and the meet-and-greet person confidently asked us how our day has been and then said “it will now get better”. As you arrive you are presented with a homemade potato crisp with a cream/grey taramasalata (was this mullet roe?), which was very pleasant enough. Bread is either sourdough or brown, from the Flour Station; it has excellent texture, but as so often with bread these days, needs a little more salt (5/10). We begin with an amuse-bouche of carrot velouté with a coriander foam. The foam worked well, having a genuine coriander taste, but the soup was a little too watery and lacked carrot flavour (4/10).
My wife started with new season English asparagus, prettily presented on top of a tasty spring onion tart with asparagus sauce and foam (5/10). After the post-modern foams it was nice to see a retro touch: drunken quail, flambéed, served with individual hazelnuts each with a little blob of hazelnut puree, garnished with wild chervil. The quail breast was excellent, tender and tasty, served on a rilette of quail, the hazelnut an effective match for the richness of the quail (6/10).
Braised Shetland salmon was again attractively presented, with shallot and mushroom compote, artichoke and wild herbs; the salmon was cooked nicely but the flavours seemed rather subdued in this dish (4/10). Cornish mackerel was served as a fillet on toast, with green tomatoes and “Cambridge sauce”, an old English sauce made from quail’s eggs (in this case), anchovies, capers, mustard, olive oil, vinegar and herbs. The sauce was very effective, the mustard given a much needed bite to the dish; the mackerel was pleasant (4/10) though for sheer flavour not as good as one I had at the less ambitious St John’s Bread and Wine a while back.
We tried cheese, a sensibly short collection of English cheeses: a fresh goat cheese, a Cheddar and a ripe Stinking Bishop, a strong cheese I did not recognise and a rather less good Stilton; this was served with toast or biscuits (5/10). A pre-dessert was excellent custard with a hazelnut crumb and a little biscuit stick to dip into the custard (5/10).
The desserts mostly suffered from the tiresome Adria-esque influence which seems to afflict so many chefs these days, who can’t produce a chocolate dessert without thinking it a clever wheeze to serve this with some bay leaf ice cream and oat porridge (in case you think I am making this up, sadly I am not). There was one sane dessert, a very well made apple charlotte with excellent filling and crisp and buttery bread outside layer (6/10). Coffee in itself was excellent, though espresso was served in a miniscule cup, but whoever thought it is a good idea to serve a few chocolates and make these bay-leaf, thyme and rosemary respectively deserves cruel and unusual punishment. Ironically we were given a taste of genuinely superb chocolate and nut tuile on the way out, so why not serve this with the coffee rather than chocolates that seemed to have fallen into the herb garden on the way to the table?
Service was friendly and generally capable, though with so many waiters there were some odd gaps and occasional difficulties getting attention, but these were minor quibbles. I found a lot to like at Launceston Place, the chef showing excellent technique at times, and you certainly get plenty of freebies for your £35 for three course menu. The wine list is fairly priced, with plenty of choice in the £25 - £40 range, and they even had the divine JJ Prum Riesling Auslese by the glass with desserts. This is a place that I feel could develop into something special, especially if the chef can learn to put his chemistry-set away. I like the old British dishes that pop up on the menu here, which were presented very well and with excellent technique. Prices are fair for the level of cooking, and it is not often I say that about a London restaurant these days.