Launceston Place is contemporary, comfortable and confident. This well established neighbourhood restaurant has been thoroughly modernized since its take over by the D&D group in 2008. Located amongst a small parade of fashionable shops in quiet residential area, it now exudes understated sophistication in its décor, furnishings, cuisine and service, being perfectly suited to its affluent Kensington location.
The attractive curved frontage is the result of its conversion from three shops. The darkness of the front façade is repeated inside, the whole restaurant being swathed in a chocolate brown. Even the windows have black blinds. For some, this may seem gloomy and oppressive; for others it creates a certain gravitas, relieved by large windows, mirrors, landscape prints, flower displays, wall lamps and spotlighting.
The maze of interconnecting rooms disperses guests amongst intimate interior or more exposed window tables. It also helps to alleviate noise levels in this sixty cover restaurant. Soft leather banquettes, well spaced tables and fine napery also make for a pleasant dining experience.
Downstairs, the Chef’s Office, a unique combination of Chef’s Table and private dining room, allows up to ten diners to enjoy a bespoke meal whilst viewing the kitchen action on a live plasma screen television, as well as having direct contact with the chef. This is an innovative idea for those restaurants that simply do not afford the room to have a table inside the kitchen.
Before taking over the kitchens at Launceston Place, Tristan Welch trained in classically French gastronomy at Arpege in Paris and was sous chef for Marcus Wareing at Petrus. However, he has adopted an unashamedly modern British approach to his cooking.
The essential prerequisite is the impeccable sourcing of the finest – and sometimes little known – seasonal ingredients: English ceps, Somerset truffle, Spenwood cheese, Herdwick lamb, west coast scallops and a totally British cheese board all feature on the menu. Nor is Tristan afraid to offer a British take on classical French dishes: witness venison, instead of steak, tartar; salad cream replacing mayonnaise; and an English apple tart version of tarte tatin.
Confidence is also demonstrated by a short carte. It takes a bold chef indeed to offer only four starters, four mains (including one fish and one offal dish), and three desserts or cheese in a fine dining restaurant. With so few alternatives, each dish must be perfect in all respects. This is even more important given the small number of elements on each plate. Main components are allowed to shine, although vegetable garnishes are given equal attention. The absence of (now clichéd) foams, smears and dots, along with the lightness of saucing, makes for a cooking style in which purity of flavour, precision of timing and simplicity of presentation are paramount. The food itself can be appear on a variety of surfaces including slate, stone, wood, shells and stoneware, as well as porcelain.
A choice of menus, ranging from an early evening (£38), to the six course tasting (£60), allows for constraints of time and finances. Fine Dining Guide visited on a mid week January evening and chose from the three course carte.(£45)
For nibbles, home made crisps bunched with black ribbons, has become a Launceston Place trade mark.
A small loaf of country bread, still warm from the oven, came with whipped butter (perched on a pebble), and gently pickled herrings (in a kilner jar), all served on a wooden platter. The freshness of these elements was impeccable, whilst the rustic presentation typified the simple yet sophisticated elegance of presentation which ran throughout the meal.
A pair of roasted West coast scallops, perfectly timed to retain their succulence, arrived in their warm shells, which added to the overall fragrance of the dish. The inherent sweetness of the flesh was balanced by a well judged garnish of “aromatic herbs from the coastline.” (Wine: 2008 Sancerre, “Le Rochoy, Domaine Laporte, Loire, France)
Another starter of calves’ tongue had great depth of flavour and an exquisitely melting texture. The richness was offset by a salad of winter leaves – including those of the highly fashionable Brussel sprout – and wild herbs. English crones added colour and crunch. Presented on a black slate, with a zig-zag drizzle of salad cream, this dish was also visually stunning. (Wine: 2009 Gavi, La Fornace, Piedmont, Italy)
A main course of sweetbreads was skillfully rendered to produce a caramelized crust encasing a rich, creamy centre, the latter implying the pancreas rather than thymusgland of this delectable offal. The dish was lifted by a light curry spicing and given textural and taste contrast by a sweet and savoury garnish of grapes and chestnuts. (Wine: 2007 Abadia Retuerta “Seleccion Especial, Sardon de Duero, Spain)
As an alternative, a generous portion of fully flavoured aged sirloin came medium rare as requested. Served on a strip of onion tart, the beef came with sauteed chanterelles and a sauce enriched with Tunworth cheese. This was a totally harmonious, earthy set of ingredients, skillfully cooked and attractively presented. (Wine: 2004 Chateau Beaumont, Haut Medoc, Bordeaux, France)
A selection of soft and hard English cheeses, including Cornish Yarg and a superb stilton, was enjoyed before the final course.
Both desserts demonstrated the strengths of the pastry section of the kitchen.
Dark chocolate soufflé was suitably light and well textured. It was given extra decadence by the addition of a velvety smooth, strongly alcoholic Laphraoig malt whisky ice cream
Apple tart was no ordinary specimen, but an inspired British version of tarte tatin. Inverted from its small copper pan at the table, it featured a richly caramelized whole apple and crisp, buttery pastry. The quenelle of clotted cream ice cream added richness which also helped to make this a memorable dessert. (Wine: Tokaji Aszu, 5 puttonyos, Ch Dereszla, Hungary)
To finish, good coffee came with dainty madeleines. These warm, crisp and soft morsels could be dunked in the luscious accompanying cream.
Service, under the direction of Zafar Salimo, was seamless and highly professional. The front-of-house team was solicitous without being obtrusive, knowledgeable without being patronizing, and friendly without being familiar. Their desire to please was clearly and consistently evident. Of particular note was the sommelier’s choice of matching wines. With such excellent staff and an extensive list from the New and Old Worlds, it is not surprising that Wine Spectator Magazine recently awarded Head Sommelier Mickey Narea, and the restaurant’s wine list, the Award of Excellence.
“Less is more” is a dictum that helps explain the success of Launceston Place. This is a lesson that aspiring chefs should learn. Tristan Welch and his team have hit on a winning formula that appeals both to regular local diners and an increasing number who come from further afield. Certainly, the restaurant is constantly busy, reflecting high levels of repeat custom and consumer satisfaction. It goes from strength to strength, and is now beginning to receive the full recognition it deserves. The award of three AA rosettes is a fitting testament to its success.