1a Launceston Place
London W8 5RL
Tel. 020 7937 6912
Food type: Modern British
Food rating: 5/10
Nearest tube: Gloucester Road
Website: Launceston Place
Christmas is a stressful time especially when you need to do all the cooking. This is of course compounded by a (fairly) ambitious menu which I am attempting by myself (with the help of my sous chef J of course). Actually, it’s not the cooking I am worried about (this is after all rip-off season and good quality produce is expensive to begin with… £65 for a free-range, organic goose, £7 for a loaf of brioche!!) but rather all the cleaning up after… in an alcoholic daze.
For my Christmas gift this year, J treated me to a lovely dinner at Launceston Place. To be honest, I have only heard about this restaurant in passing and decided to give it a try because it was one of the few places that serves sweetbreads. (I have been having a craving for sweetbreads and they are tough to get hold off and whole load of work to prepare well).
When D&D holdings took over this iconic 80’s restaurant (formerly ex-Conran) in 2007, it was accompanied by a complete re-haul of the restaurant which reopened in March this year. The relaunch was also accompanied by the acquisition of chef Tristan Welch who was formerly head chef at the 2 Michelin Starred Petrus (now Marcus Wareing). The Petrus connection does not end there with manager Hadi Aknin also on board.
The restaurant has a gentleman’s club feel to it. Monochromatic black and white is the order of the day the minute you step up to the restaurant. Walls are slate black highlighted only by the luminous white tablecloths and the cream coloured sofas. In keeping with the festive season, the faux fireplace was decorated with stockings and the odd Christmas decoration.
Chef Welch’s cooking style infuses classical British cuisine with modern cooking techniques. In accordance, the seasonal menu is filled with food you actually want to eat. While you will find your quintessential British dishes such as Smoked Salmon (cured in house), Bread & Butter Pudding and of course Roast Beef, the menu is also interspersed with the odd European-influenced dish like the White Alba Truffle Risotto (with a ‘measly’ £25 supplement). 3 Courses costs £42 (you pay for 3 even if you only have 2) and the 5 course tasting menu probably a better value at £49.
Canapes in the form of potato crisps and a creamy cheddar dip were brought to us while we browsed through the menu. The wafer thin potatoes were a touch greasy and audibly crisp (though not breaking any decibel scales). This was accompanied by the creamy, smooth and slightly salty dip with only the faintest hint of cheddar. While the crisps themselves were perhaps unspectacular, I particularly enjoyed the cheddar dip which went well with the crusty bread provided. (4/10)
Bread here is supplied by Flour Station and is a simple choice of either sourdough or brown bread. I am pretty familiar with their supplier since they have a store at Borough Market which I frequent from time to time. (I am also obtaining this year’s supply of Mince Pies from them). Their bread is pleasant enough with good crust and soft fluffy interior but perhaps lacking slightly in the salt. In addition, the sourdough did not have that slight hint of acidity that the best sourdoughs possess. (5/10)
An amuse bouche consisted of a Celeriac Veloute with toasted almond flakes. The veloute was creamy, deep, intense and full of earthy notes of the celeriac. The toasted almonds added some nuttiness to complement the richness of the celeriac veloute. This was a rather enjoyable starter although not something which could be regarded as inventive nor technically challenging. (4/10)
A single scallop was served on the shell sitting on a bed of pebbles (brought directly from Dorset no less). My scallop was timed correctly resulting in a juicy, moist, tender mollusc. A mixture of parsley and chervil provided a lovely refreshing grassy notes highlighting the natural sweetness of the scallop. (5/10)
You would be forgiven to think that they had forgotten the rest of your meal and fast-forwarded to dessert with the next dish. Their take on foie gras was a humorous play on the classic Crème caramel although accompanied by toasted walnut bread. Indeed, the foie gras custard was even topped with a layer of dark caramel. For me, I did not enjoy this dish as much as I thought I would – the foie gras custard was surprisingly lacking in the intense livery flavour I was expecting. Additionally, I felt that the dish was in need of an acidic component (even if it was from a wine) to cut through the richness of the liver. (2/10)
The veal sweetbread was actually not on the tasting menu, but the restaurant was more than happy for us to add this as an extra course (with a supplemental charge of course). Here, clever and gentle use of tandoori spice added a little more interest to the sweetbread. This was definitely a interesting twist (although the pairing with grapes itself is hardly original). Nevertheless, this dish worked for me on different levels. The delicate sweetness of the chestnut puree was the perfect foil for the slightly smokey sweetbread with the veal jus adding depth of flavour to the dish. This would have been a very good dish but for the sweetbread itself which was a touch dry. (5/10)
The best dish of the night belonged to the Asian-inspired dish of mackerel served with cucumber and precious Oscietra caviar. The pairing of grilled mackerel with cucumber is very popular in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. The Japanese tend to heavily salt their mackerel so I was prepared (mentally) for this. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the dispensing of salt was kept to a sensible level. This allowed the natural flavour of the mackerel to shine through. More importantly, this was balanced by the salty caviar. Cucumber was served in two ways – as a dill-infused foam and pickled. The later method of preparation the humble cucumber having the slightest hint of acidity to cut through the oily fish. (6/10)
A ‘refresher’ sorbet was brought to us before our mains with the instructions to ‘Guess the Flavour’. These were well made and served its job as a palate cleanser. (As a side note, both of us managed to guess our flavours correctly)
A nice touch with this restaurant is that they were pretty flexible with regards to tasting menu. There is a choice of venison or pork for the tasting menu, not to mention the specials of the day (beef). The venison here is sourced from Denham Estate, located in Suffolk, which is the largest deer farm in Europe specializing in Fallow deer. A generous portion of venison loin, roasted pink as requested was paired with spiced pears, red cabbage (served as a puree) and chestnuts. The roasting jus was poured at table side. This was a pleasant enough dish without that certain element to make it truly memorable. (5/10)
J’s Suckling Pig was accompanied by the classical apple sauce, mashed potatoes and roasted shallots (skin on). Again this was a very enjoyable dish, with good crackling and excellent balance in seasoning although again I felt that this wasn’t something that we could not reproduce at home without too much difficulty. (5/10)
A simple pre-dessert of egg creme was served in an egg shell, topped with a generous sprinkling of almond crumble and a thin strip of nougat biscuit to dip into the custard. This was smooth, with a slightly wobbly texture complemented by the pleasant almond crumble. (4/10)
Now, I admit that I am not the biggest fan of chocolate. I can tolerate chocolate in small amounts, but vast quantities of chocolate make me ill and give me bad migraines. ‘Death by Chocolate’ consists of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate presented in various forms. On the bottom was a ganache of bittersweet chocolate, topped with the toffee mousse, chocolate chips and tempered chocolate. A generous pouring of chocolate sauce completed the cocoa odyssey. The toffee mousse seemed lost in the sea of chocolate bombardment. This could have been chocolate mousse in all honesty and I wouldn’t have noticed. (5/10)
I also tried some cheese from their all-British cheeseboard with the usual suspects available except Stinking Bishop (which is not at its best this time of year according to the knowledgeable people at Neal’s Yard Diary). I tried Lincolnshire Poacher (cheddar), Tunworth and Cropwell Bishop (Stilton) which came with grapes, water biscuits and toasted walnut bread. The cheddar and Tunworth were in good condition, with the later in nicely ripe although the Stilton was less than stellar. (5/10 overall)
Writing my review for Launceston Place has been challenging to say the least. There is a lot to like about this place – the excellent service (this is the first restaurant where the waitress swept my table for crumbs more than once), the ambiance and all the freebies. The problem here is the food, not that the food is bad. Far from it, the cooking here shows good technique with clean, simple flavours. However, many of the dishes served could have been prepared at home by the amateur cook (with some level of effort). I can only assume that the restaurant is aiming for a Michelin Star and perhaps chef Welch has been toning back his sense of adventure in his cooking as a result of some of the criticism received to achieve that goal.
Before I sign off, I would like to wish all my dear readers “Merry Christmas!!!”