The phones are ringing hot at Launceston Place following chef Steve Groves’ victory in Master Chef the Professionals. While I am sure Head Chef, Tristan Welch, is delighted for Groves’ success it must be somewhat irritating to have patrons asking for their menu to be autographed by the junior sous chef on a night that both Welch and Groves are in the kitchen (which did happen on our visit).
Salt marsh lamb
The restaurant was booked out on Friday night when MTV boyfriend and I went there for dinner. I was called three times to confirm my reservation with the final message threatening to cancel my reservation if I did not reconfirm my 2.30pm. This seemed on the extreme side but Launceston Place enforced the threat in relation to another couple who arrived at the same time that we did. They were told that there were no seats available as their booking had not been reconfirmed despite the booking being made weeks in advance and for a birthday celebration. The couple claimed they had not received the telephone call asking for reconfirmation. It got to the stage that I was almost going to offer the couple our booking, however luckily a table was found. I couldn’t help but feel that Launceston Place didn’t handle the situation well and it left a bad taste in my mouth. Since when did restaurants become such sticklers for reconfirming?
Admittedly, this was the only glitch in service for the night which was otherwise faultless. When we arrived we were seated in the bar area which serves as a holding room for the restaurant where we had a glass of the house Roeder champagne (£14) and some of restaurants signature parsnip crisps tied in bundles with Launceston Place ribbon. From there we went into the restaurant proper which is quite dramatic with black walls and moody paintings.
The dinner menu is a reasonable £55 for the tasting menu or £45 for three courses. The food is decidedly modern British. There are classics listed such as fish pie and rice pudding, but you can bet that they are going to be served in a way that is different and exciting. We opted to dine a la carte and there were plenty of bonus extras which meant that we had certainly eaten our fill by the end. To start, an amuse bouche of what our waiter described as “hot and cold” leek soup. This was a shot glass of warm leek soup topped with a cold foam of leek. The sensation was strange but not unpleasant.
Fresh water fish pie
With the help of the sommelier we chose a bottle of the Bandol Suffrene (£38) to accompany our meal which lived up to our request for a less full bodied red wine perfectly. From there it was time to turn our attention to the food. Of the entrees, the West Coast scallops hogged the spotlight. Three large, juicy specimens were served still clinging to their pearly shells. They were sprinkled with “aromatic” herbs and a light dressing that highlighted rather than hid their natural briny flavour. The partridge cooked in whisky, heather and oats was an architectural triumph. It was served on a board (as were the scallops, there seems to be an obsession with boards in restaurants at the moment) and included a leg of partridge and a piece of breast arranged alongside daubs of sauce. This dish tasted as good as it looked, conveying a fantastic gamey flavour.
Onto the mains, imagine if you will, a deconstructed fish pie. The pie itself was served in a small copper saucepan topped with golden brown piped mash, while pieces of crustacean along with a smear of broad beans and peas sit on the plate. This dish was whimsical and fun while still delivering a hearty serve of creamy pie. More allocades, this time for the Salt Marsh lamb which was served in slices of blush pink fillet topped with generous pieces of fat and accompanied by some slightly bitter red cabbage. It was a simple dish but still satisfying and well executed.
A pre dessert of a lemon and strawberry sorbet was a refreshing precursor to our shared dessert of tarte tartin. This was a more traditional and conservative dish and I could not help but be slightly disappointed after the fireworks that had come before. Still, the tarte tartin was perfectly executed with the apples caramalised until they were golden and soft.
Whether it was the established talent of Welch or the rising star of Groves who was responsible for the cooking on our visit, the food at Launceston Place was sensational. Given the calibre of the food the prices were also quite reasonable. My only hesitation is the over the top attitude that the front of house staff displayed in relation to reservations. Perhaps the restaurant has had a problem in the past with no shows or cancellations however the staff’s attitude did not seem to be warranted.
Details: 1 Launceston Place, Kensington W8 5RL (Ph 020 7937 6912) Tube: High Street Kensington