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 (15/20). 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 (14/20).
My wife started with new season English asparagus, prettily presented on top of a tasty spring onion tart with asparagus sauce and foam (15/20). 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 (16/20).
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 (14/20). 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 (14/20) 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 (15/20). A pre-dessert was excellent custard with a hazelnut crumb and a little biscuit stick to dip into the custard (15/20).
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 (16/20). 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.Book