Launceston Place is a long established restaurant in a quiet part of Kensington. It is set in a mid 19th century townhouse, the dining area spread out amongst several connecting rooms. Over the years it has had several chefs, the latest being Ben Murphy, who moved here from The Woodford, which closed soon after he left. Ben Murphy has previously worked at Koffmann’s, had a two-year spell at the Epicure at The Bristol Hotel in Paris and a stint with the great Michel Guerard at Pres des Eugenie.
There was a tasting menu at £79 in addition to the a la carte selection at £60 for three courses, and a set lunch menu at £30. On Saturdays only the tasting menu is offered. The quite lengthy wine list ranged in price from £29 to £2,000. Examples were Gruner Veltliner, Sepp Moser 2015 at £29 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £11, Koyle Costa Colcahgua Sauvignon Blanc 2015 at £46 compared to its retail price of £14, and Clos Canarelli 2014 at £83 for a label that will set you back £29 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Rioja Alta 904 from 1982 was £275 compared to its retail price of £192, and Sassicaia, Tenuta San Guido 2006 was £460 for a wine that has a current market value of £223. As you travel up the list the mark-ups became inconsistent e.g. the Vega Sicilia Unico 1966 had a heavy cash mark-up at £950 for a bottle that retails at £436, yet the Latour 1959 at £2,000 compared well to its current market price of £2,209.
The meal began with some nibbles. Red cabbage gazpacho was served in a bottle with a straw, which seemed rather gimmicky, but tasted pleasant enough. Alongside this was a miniature Caaser salad in a wrap held together with a clothes peg, which was fine. Finally there was a cornetto of chicken liver parfait, burnt orange jelly and puffed rice. This was nice enough, but there was not enough liver flavour, and the cornet was not as delicate as the best of the breed e.g. the cornet nibble at Hedone (nibbles 13/20 on average). This was followed by bread that was made in the kitchen from scratch, a rosemary bun served with butter whipped with yoghurt. The bread was soft and delicate, and had a pleasing hint of rosemary (14/20). Alongside the bread was a seemingly rather unnecessary jar in which was horseradish, buttermilk, celery textures and a crouton. This was just strange, with nowhere near enough horseradish flavour, and overly bitter (11/20 at best). A further pair of amuse-bouches followed. Granola with honey and lemon verbena oil was pleasant enough, the verbena flavour not too strong. Alongside this was yellow pattypan squash, butternut squash dumpling and butternut squash sorbet. This was technically well made, though it is difficult to pull off hot and cold in the same dish, but the dish managed to avoid being too sweet (13/20).
The first formal course was roasted carrots, served cold, with carrot powder and oats, a baby glazed carrot, lovage oil, lovage mayonnaise and caraway-infused yoghurt. The carrots (except the baby one) were rather overcooked, ending up with an overly soggy texture, and the caraway flavour was very subtle indeed (12/20).
The next dish was spelt cooked in the style of a risotto, with tarragon, parsley and mint, garnished with a quail egg. I have tried a number of modern takes on risotto using alternatives to rice, and these can be interesting e.g. I can recall a nice version using pearl barley. Sadly this one didn’t work, the resulting texture being overly firm and rather chewy, and just reminded me of why risotto is usually made of rice (10/20 at best).
Better was slow-cooked octopus with diced chorizo, cucumber marinated with soy, chicken wing coated in panko breadcrumbs and a chorizo consommé. The octopus was quite tender and the chicken wing was nice. I would have scored this higher except that it was very salty, even to my saline-friendly taste (13/20). Halibut was pan-roasted and came with baby carrot, artichoke, baby turnip, red currant, Romanesco and radish, with a verjus sabayon. This was an enjoyable dish, though the halibut was a touch overcooked, though the vegetables were fine (13/20).
My final savoury course was Iberico presa (a cut from near the shoulder) with compressed aubergine, crackling, aubergine puree, ponzu gel and herb powder. The pork was decent though for me did not have great flavour, which is odd given that this cut usually is quite distinctive.. The crackling was rather limp, the aubergine pleasant enough, the overall effect quite rich (12/20). A pair of “Pont Neuf” potatoes were served separately and were very nice – a dish that I enjoyed at The Woodford. They are made by creating a potato terrine using Maris Piper potatoes, which is then cooked and pressed overnight. They are then cut by hand into blocks before the final frying. These are effectively classy chips, but cooked through well and with crisp exterior. I recall the version I ate before being even better, but these were certainly very nice (15/20).
There were two desserts. Burnt lemon gel came with a poppy seed sponge cake, meringue and lemon sorbet. This was pleasant enough, the texture of the sponge cake good, and the lemon sorbet was fine (13/20). There was also a chocolate sphere with apple and cucumber. The chocolate was Valrhona and was fine, but why anyone would think that cucumber is a good accompaniment for a chocolate dessert is a mystery to me (11/20). The coffee was Musetti, which is very popular with restaurants but not a favourite of mine.
Service was excellent, with a capable Polish sommelier and an excellent Dutch assistant manager called Mark Nijhuis, who was patient and highly professional. The bill came to £86 a head; if you went a la carte and shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical all-in cost per person with coffee might be around £95.
Having enjoyed Ben Murphy’s cooking at The Woodford, I was genuinely puzzled at the meal tonight. The kitchen seems to be trying for a much more modern and less classical style of cooking than has previously been the case at this restaurant. Quite apart from many of the dishes not really working, I am not sure that this style fits easily in a well-established restaurant like Launceston Place, which has spent decades building up a particular reputation and clientele. Modernist food like this is often walking a flavour tightrope, and I felt that tonight it fell off. There were a couple of dishes that I enjoyed (the bread, the potatoes) but there were way too many misses compared to hits in the course of this menu.Book