I found myself in London the other week with a very rare thing indeed – a whole weekend in the capital with no obligation to be absolutely anywhere, what a luxury! What’s more it was the hottest weekend of the year so far – so cue shorts, sandals and shades…
After a very relaxing day messing about on the river, complete with some prosecco and obligatory Wahaca snackage, we decided to head for a slap up meal at Launceston Place in Kensington. I’d heard of this through Tristan Welch’s appearances on the Great British Menu, Masterchef and suchlike. Tristan is no longer head chef at this British establishment, he’s moved on to spend more time with his family but is still in post as a consultant. It was obvious from the menu though that new head chef Tim Allen wants to put his mark on the place.
Now I love a good tasting menu, especially when it comes with wine! It’s a great excuse to pig out, have a splurge and try loads of things you wouldn’t normally. So this is what we went for. We had a chance to cool down over a gin and tonic and canapes of choux buns filled with a warm and cheesy bechamel sauce. They don’t sound very glam but they filled my mouth with an amazing, comforting burst of oozy cheesiness. I was in a foul mood at this point as our journey to the restaurant had taken about 70 minutes, more than double of what TFL had helpfully predicted. However, with a cheesy ball in my gob I was returned to zen like peace immediately.
Our amouse bouche was a rather brown and drab mushroom voulette. However appearances, as we know, can be deceptive as the foamy soup had a vibrant and silky earthiness that made me gobble it up in seconds. It came studded with shards of fresh chestnuts, which gave it great texture.
As we moved on to our starter we were introduced to our sommelier – a rather jolly Frenchman who was most amused in pinching the bottoms of the waiting staff! His first offering was a grassy pinot blanc from Alsace which he paired to the rich oiliness of the slow cooked pheasant egg present in our starter. The egg was served atop young asparagus and ham. It was a delicate dish but a bit sloppy for me. Undercooked egg is a huge fear of mine and the slow cooked nature of the egg meant that it had an ultra soft texture. I think I forgot to drink the wine at the same time as the food but I’m sure the pairing was perfect!
Our next wine was an intriguing white Rioja. It was a very bold wine with smoky vanilla flavours that you would expect in a red. It’s not a wine you could glug down in vast quantities but as a different taste sensation it was great. This was paired with our fish course of seared scallop, glazed pork belly, apple match sticks and celeriac puree. The scallop was perfectly cooked – it was nicely caramelised and not jellified at all, as they often can be. The glazed pork belly was a welcome surprise element to the dish and was suitably meaty and moist. I could have lived without the apple which came in julienne and jelly forms. The julienne had little flavour and the jelly is a big no no for me. I love jelly, just not in savoury food where it leaves me feeling a little bilious.
Our poor sommelier had a bit of a struggle finding a wine to go with our main course of lots of different cuts of lamb. In the end he opted for a luxurious 2004 chateauneuf de pape, simply because it’s such a good wine, it could stand up to our complex meat course. This wine was thick and smoky and very warming indeed – it was probably my favourite of the night. Our ‘celebration’ of lamb came as seared rump, pressed neck, sweetbread and tongue. The rump was particularly enjoyable and the offal surprisingly good. The cuts came with a puree of curried cauliflower and peas and broad beans. The puree was stunning and complemented the rich lamb very well indeed. I don’t think it was a great pairing for the wine though, which is often the case with spicy foods.
The tasting menus are good because you get lots of small courses to eat and you always have room for everything. I love to have cheese with a meal but never manage it so I was pleased that cheese featured on this menu. Our cheeses included a comte and a tongue tingling blue. Even blue cheese hating Richard ate and enjoyed the blue! The wine pairing for this was a Post Scriptum Douro. The sommelier described it as a cross between a port and a red wine as he’s a bit snobby about serving port. It was deep and fruity but without the sickly sweetness of port.
Before dessert we were treated to what was possible my favourite course – a pre dessert of lemon pannacotta and rosemary granita. The granita was so clever – the aromatic freshness is one that I will try and emulate at home. The panacotta was so clean and cool it really refreshed the palate and calmed my mouth down after all of the wine and cheese!
Dessert was a show stopping raspberry souffle, that I had already seen being handed out in the dining room and was excited about! It came baked with a white chocolate cream inside. This was potentially an exciting addition, however mine seemed to have split slightly inside the souffle and wasn’t that pleasant, which was a great shame. However, what was a stroke of genius was that the inside of the ramekin had been coated with luxurious dark and bitter chocolate. As the souffle baked this melted and then acted as an amazing bitter partner to the fruity pud. I was impressed with the decent and even rise the chef had achieved. It came served with fresh raspberries, crunchy freezedried raspberries and a vibrant raspberry sorbet. The final wine pair was a Castrano Dulce – a syrupy red dessert wine. Richard described it as tasting like Ribena – we’ll make a food blogger out of him yet! But yes indeed it did taste of alcoholic ribena.
Overall a good (but expensive) meal indeed! I didn’t feel leaving so full that I might explode but I felt very content with the food and wine I had been treated to. The place itself had a relaxed atmosphere, despite being fairly formal. I think what impressed me the most was how everything worked like clockwork. The minute we ordered something another staff member whooshed in with new cutlery or wine glasses and we were never left waiting for anything – that will always win me round! If you find yourself in a posh residential street in Kensington then why not try it out? But do take your credit card!