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Launceston Place, Kensington

June 18, 2011

Note: I dined at Launceston Place in December 2009, so the contents might be slightly outdated. However, to this day, it remains one of my favourite dining experiences in London.

My 20th birthday was celebrated in a pleasant manner, although the events that would come in the months following my birthday had a huge impact on my memory of winter 2009/2010. But there were  a few fun moments in December that I do remember and want to write about. This is one of them.

Two of my friends took me out for lunch at Launceston Place, part of the hugely successful D&D restaurant empire in London. I had heard that while serving competent food at reasonable prices with stunning interior decoration, most did not have the capability to truly grasp a customer by the collar and say, “This food is going to knock your socks off.” Launceston Place is the exception. It honestly deserves more accolades than it has right now, as it remains one of my most memorable meals to date.

When we arrived, the restaurant was nearly empty; it didn’t fill up the whole time we were there, but perhaps that was due to the fact that we went on a weekday and that the location isn’t prime for drawing in businesspeople. We were sat right in front of the cheese trolley, what a temptation! (None of us ended up with cheese at the end, however.)

Nibbles were presented as soon as we sat down – parsnip crisps. As a rule, I do not eat parsnips in any form. But I did try some of these, and to my surprise, they didn’t have that awful, rotten-carrot-like flavour of parsnips that I abhor.

We were then given an amuse bouche of a hot and cold pea cappucino, served in a shot glass with cold mousse on top and hot soup on the bottom. This was absolutely delicious, though completely out of season. I would have happily devoured an entire bowlful of the soup. Also, they spotted my very conspicuous Canon and came over to ask for a picture! Of course I obliged.

All of us went for the 3-course set menu, priced at a wholly reasonable £20; the a la carte would have blown all of our wallets into oblivion. Both of my friends had the cep risotto, Spenwood cheese, while I busied myself with potted foie gras, Maldon sea salt. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try the lobster soup with brandy & saffron, which sounded like the perfect antidote to an icy day. The risotto came in a cute copper pan and was quite a large portion for a starter; my friends couldn’t finish theirs. I loved the presentation of my foie gras starter; although it might be seen as tacky and overdone, food served on slabs of slate is my weakness. Again, the portion size was extremely generous for a starter. The foie gras itself was smooth and sweet, with the crunchy sea salt intensifying the rich taste and contrasting nicely with the creamy texture.

Next to come were my friends’ mains of smoked trout, watercress, potatoes. The trout was cooked beautifully; the fish was flaky, firm, and moist with a delicate flavour that wasn’t overshadowed by the accompanying watercress and thin shavings of new potatoes. My main of braised wild hare, pistachio butter, chicory and pear salad was a little more complex with varied textures and contrasting flavours, but the hare had been a touch overseasoned. That being said, I really liked how the toasted pistachio topping offered a much-needed crunch to complement each tender forkful of hare. I wasn’t too fond of the salad, but it was only a matter of personal taste (I have yet to appreciate the merits of blue cheese). The chicory was bitter, the pear was sweet and juicy, and the blue cheese was pungent. If I’m being honest, I thought it worked perfectly without the blue cheese, since the hare was quite salty.

After our mains came a pre-dessert palate cleanser. Unfortunately I failed to take note of what it was – it tasted of berries and mulled wine topped with candied orange peel. Very appropriate for the season, and whetted our appetite for dessert, even though we were all full to the seams by then.

After a 15 minute wait in which my friends and I tried and failed to take a decent picture with all of us in it, our desserts arrived: apple tart, homemade clotted cream (for two), and banana sticky toffee pudding, Guinness ice cream. My friend’s sticky toffee pudding looked excellent, but I didn’t really have any as my apple tart was enormous. The apple tart, which was a tarte tatin, came in a large copper pan with a little cup of thick clotted cream. It was absolutely the best dish of the day. The pastry was flaky and caramelized, and the apples were sweet, still with a bite to them, glossy with the shade of burnished caramel thanks to the butter and sugar. Served piping hot with a dollop of cold clotted cream, it was the perfect end to a lovely, relaxing meal.

We actually spent nearly 3 hours at Launceston Place, which was helped by the fact that our bottoms were comfortably sat on lush, plump cushions. The service was outstanding, with the chatty waiters engaging us with humour, topping our drinks up often and checking to see if everything was all right, without being too obtrusive. Prices have increased now; it’s £22 for the 3-course set lunch menu, but it changes every so often and is still great value for money. If only I could afford to live closer and visit more frequently.

Launceston Place
1a Launceston Place, Kensington

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