The striking black-painted Launceston Place, taking its name from the idyllic chocolate box street in South Kensington on which it is situated, has been an institution since the late 1980s after the Terrence Conran group converted four Georgian houses into a temple of gastronomy that went on to boast Princess Diana as a regular. To this day the sophisticated, cocoon-like interior is hushed yet relaxed, early or late, and remains a discreet venue for ‘old money’ who know what they like and exactly where to find it.
Acquired by D&D London in 2008, who now have an impressive portfolio of 34 restaurants including some of the capital’s most famous such as Orrery, Le Pont de la Tour and Sartoria, while the others are firmly grounded in classical French or Italian cuisine, Launceston Place remains very much the flagship and continues to push the envelope of culinary innovation with a modern, interesting presentation that is in synergy with the vibrant style of cookery for which it is famous.
In 2012 Tim Allen replaced Tristan Welch, now chef to the rich and famous on the island of Mustique, but after over three years of strong reviews he too left the city (for the title of executive chef at The Wild Rabbit in Kingham) and the baton of chef patron has duly been passed to the renowned Raphael Francois of Le Cirque in New York. Francois was also previously executive chef at Helene Darroze at the Connaught, raising my expectations still higher, and after a recent lunch I’m pleased to report that Launceston is as flourishing as ever.
One of only two D&D restaurants to hold a Michelin star (the other is Angler within South Place Hotel), having visited whilst Allen was at the helm and again just last week, there is a seemingly unshakeable confidence to both the welcoming front of house team and the food itself, which proved even more delicious and exquisitely prepared than on my first experience. It also happens to be exceptionally good value, with a market menu offering three courses for £55 and a seven course tasting menu for £65 or £115 with wine pairing. Not only does the cuisine justify splashing out, but the Polish Head Sommelier Piotr Pietras is deservedly hailed as one of the best in the industry.
Commencing with a light and summery appetiser celebrating the glorious British pea with watermelon and burrata, the accompanying chilled Mojito-style jus, which even contained a hint of rum, was prepared by the witty maître d’ who wielded the cocktail shaker with considerable panache. Next up, a single spear of green asparagus, placed alongside a perfectly quenelled duxelle of mushroom and crispy proscuitto was placed before me prior to being rounded off with a 63 degree slow cooked hen’s egg which the maître d’ had the task of cracking at the table before ever-so-carefully transferring to my bowl in tact. It doesn’t take a Mayfair lawyer to work out that the combination of ingredients are a marriage made in heaven, but it does take an extremely clever chef to elevate them in such a way that the diner is actually surprised by them and reminded just how good classic pairings can be.
Whilst I was advised that the signature dish entitled ‘Simplissime’ was akin to a fish pie, I was overwhelmed with joy on finding that somewhere in the pale bowl, concealed under a blanket of the richest, creamiest, yet lightest potato I’ve ever tasted (not altogether unlike the consistency of shaving foam – but so addictive as to make me want to nip out and purchase an espuma gun), there lay a generous amount of hand-picked blue crab. The dish was finished with a drizzle of an arousing and well-balanced tarragon carapace jus making it not just the crab dish of the decade, but the one I’ve been waiting for all my life.
The main of guinea fowl was another heart-warmingly flavoursome and harmonious dish, featuring a perfectly cooked breast, the skin of which was a lovely golden brown, sitting on brown and green cauliflower purée, and accompanied with miniature florets of the same along with pomegranate which, aside from any decorative benefits, added subtle bursts of sweetness. Besides this there was a bon-bon of the darker leg meat, and a glossy, lip-smackingly punchy jus the colour and appearance of salted caramel which I would have happily supped alone with a crust of bread.
Another cocktail homage came in the form of a Pina Colada pre-dessert; consisting of a loosely set pineapple jelly with diced fresh pineapple and mint, and topped with a coconut foam – a great little palate cleanser ahead of the crema catalana I selected; buttery pastry topped with a precisely set yet unctuous cinnamon flavoured custard and crowned with an immaculate brûlée topping giving it both sweetness and an appealing crunch. It might be a long time since Launceston Place was a new kid on the block, but Rapahel Francois most certainly is and he’s already making his presence felt.
Launceston Place, 1A Launceston Pl, London W8 5RL. For more information and reservations call 020 7937 6912 or visit the website.