I want to be calamitous about a review every now and then because I think – in my fusspot way – that nothing is ever perfect or altogether up to scratch. Restaurants, like human beings, are meant to fail and disappoint occasionally, then pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and progress forward with a lesson learnt. It’s a struggle however to fail Launceston Place, as when I visited it delivered sublime results and ticked boxes across the board.
The corridor coils around the restaurant and seats diners at white-linen tables with plush, dark grey leather upholstery. There are moody pictures on the walls of winter landscapes and the room buzzes with murmurings from wealthy Chelsea folk and silver-haired executives contemplating the extensive wine list.
The service was impeccable and always on hand with water refills and bread: sourdough or wholemeal? I had an interesting conversation with our Sommelier, who indulged me in my attempt to fool him with my knowledge of New World wines, as I sipped on my fourth glass of Albarino (£37 bottle).
We ordered the set-lunch menu at £20 as there didn’t seem to be much difference between this and the £60 tasting menu. It was agreed that neither of us were in the mood, or had the luxury of time, to spread ourselves across six enduring courses of petite samplings. Both menus consisted of enticing descriptions: ‘Hand dived west coast scallops, wild sorrel and apple; Tamworth suckling pig, radishes and honey emulsion; free range chicken breast, smoked egg, wild girolles; partridge cooked in whisky and heather, oats.’
Poncy parsnip crisps were on every table, sprinkled with paprika. They’re one of those unique staples from a restaurant that you can only ever really experience in a specific setting, and stand them apart from other establishment gimmicks. Maybe they’re a subtle plea to the Michelin imprimatur so they can swiftly raise the prices to more typically Kensingtonian levels.
We were treated to a complimentary appetizer of a little amuse-bouche of carrot velouté with cauliflower foam. It was warm and strong tasting and went down lovely. Next was the potted foie gras and Maldon sea salt which was wonderful in presentation and delivery. Reports on the spider crab risotto with lashings of garlic butter – which arrived warm and soft in its shell – were glowing.
We both chose the very British braised wild hare, pistachio butter, chicory and pear salad, which was so humble in presentation in a small, white serving dish, and tasted so fresh and rich that it was worth taking a moment’s reflection for that fluffy little hare. Our main course wine was a 2006 Barbera D’Alba, Fides, Pio Cesare at £85 a bottle, and was firm, moderately intense and made for a hazy lunchtime thrill.
Tristan Welch, who has switched the menu from the haughty French style to a more warming British approach, is surely on the path to more glittering plaudits. It’s also worth noting that the junior sous chef, Steve Groves, won Masterchef: The Professionals 2009. Michel Roux Jnr said that ‘Steve showed not only great knowledge of classical cooking but also proved that he could master modern techniques.’
The wine list is interminable (expensive too if you don’t pick scrupulously). This place prides itself on its wine just as much as the food. There’s even a 1993 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti for £3,300. Three-thousand and three-hundred pounds! That’s a secondhand BMW, a two-week Mediterranean cruise, eight hundred bottles of Blue Nun!
I had banana sticky toffee pudding with Guinness ice cream for dessert. As these places do, the pudding itself was small and delicate looking with artistic swishes and swirls across the plate. The Guinness ice cream was delicious. From the cheese trolley we picked a mature Cheddar, Stilton and a ripe Stinking Bishop, all served with toast or biscuits.
It’s all very South Ken and was apparently Princess Diana’s local and favourite. It’s not my local, by some mileage, but is defiantly now one of my favourites.