Despite living and working in the easterly bits of central London, I visited two restaurants in Kensington over the last seven days: Kitchen W8 and Launceston Place. I thought the former was pleasant and worth visiting when already in the area, but in contrast, the latter is a worthy cross-town destination. If there’s justice in the world, Launceston Place should be awarded Michelin star in the next year. In addition to talent in the kitchen, it’s got great style and spirit. [An aside for fellow food nerds: be sure to read this fascinating interview with a Michelin Guide inspector.]
A few preliminaries. My friends and I made our Saturday booking about two months ago, not because the restaurant was that unattainable, but because we had such conflicting schedules. Then, I read on Gourmet Chick that Launceston Place’s sous chef, Steve Groves, had just won a TV cooking competition, and more importantly, Gourmet Chick had had a fabulous time despite a bizarre service hiccup at the start. All of this meant that by the time we were seated in one “wing” of the restaurant’s butterfly-shaped dining room, I had pretty high expectations.
Presumably because it was late (i.e, past 9 pm), we weren’t offered the tasting menu (£55), but with a party of four, we were still able to construct our own tasting menu by each ordering different dishes from the three-course (£45) menu. Once we added in all the amuses (like the wonderful hot-cold leek soup in graduated shades of green – just like a leek), we felt like we’d eaten the tasting menu anyway.
Starters were a strong point of the evening. Jon’s roasted scallops were huge, juicy and sweet. Perfect. (However, being competitive, I’m mildly miffed that Gourmet Chick was served three of these, whereas Jon received two. Was the kitchen running low on scallops that night?)
My starter of potted foie gras consisted of a generous portion of the most velvety foie gras pate, ever. The quince puree added a touch of sweet lightness, and I didn’t even mind the dark slate serving slab (it’s so 1990s, no?).
A celery-sorbet palate cleanser performed its function, but the celery was flavorless (as you’d expect from a veg that’s 99% water), and the walnut cream could’ve been sweeter so that it was more than just an icy refresher.
As a main, I chose the suckling pig, whose bit of crackling-topped belly was superb, but amazingly, even better than the slice of belly were the tender loin medallions encased in unctuous, flavor-soaking pig fat. There were accompanying bits and bobs for color and crunch, but the piggy stole the show for me.
Jon’s wild hare was cooked to a melt-in-your-mouth state. Despite the generous portion size, Jon practically licked his plate clean. However, while I appreciated the gamey meat’s tenderness, it was almost too mushy for me. I felt like I ought to be spreading the meat on toast.
Our friend J chose the vegetarian option of a spinach and ricotta ravioli. While it looked gorgeous, and while J loved her dish, from the bite I had, I thought the kitchen could’ve used a lighter hand with the herbs. My mouthful tasted overwhelmingly of parsley and dill. And I’d expected mountains of ricotta in these things, which was not the case.
There was a pre-dessert demonstrating more playfulness with temperatures and textures. I loved the way the peppery tuile shattered and added crunchy sweetness to the smooth, creamy cold-sorbet-warm-coulis combo. When even the amuses are a creative treat, you can’t help feeling that someone in the kitchen is paying attention to all the details.
Desserts were generally tasty but pedestrian, and I agree with Gourmet Chick’s assessment that they weren’t as special as the other courses. The “dark chocolate” dessert, for example, was exactly as advertised on the tin: rich, creamy chocolate – like a thick mousse.
Visually, my apple parfait was appealing: a golden apple with echoes of childhood candy-like toffee apples. But the apple was enormous, and inside, it was just a creamy, heavy apple-walnut parfait, which got old really fast. Instead of finishing my giant ball of (effectively) ice cream, I ended up “helping” Jon devour his delicious selection of cheese.
Overall, the decor, food and service were excellent at Launceston Place. If I had to nitpick (of course I do), I’d complain that (1) we had to ask three times for our tap water glasses to be refilled; and (2) while the food is tremendous value at these prices, the “extras” add up incredibly fast. A glass of champagne here (£14 for non-vintage yeasty Roederer); a madeira there (£11 a glass); a couple bottles of wine; a cheese course supplement (£6-£10) . . . when our bill arrived, we were stunned for a moment. What happened to that £45 pp price tag? But of course, all the charges made sense and we quickly moved past our surprise and paid up. After all, the important thing is that all of us had enjoyed our food and our evening, and we can’t wait to go back.
Launceston Place, 1a Launceston Place, W8 5RL; 0207 937 6912; closest tube stations: Gloucester Road and High Street Kensington.