Launceston Place, London
Went here for the £18 set price lunch, which is excellent value. However with wine (ok, 2 bottles), water, veg and coffee, plus service we spent well over double that. Very tasteful room, leisurely atmosphere and good service, if a bit keen to push the extras.
Amuse bouche - A shot glass of what we were told was an almond cream soup, and it did have toasted almond flakes on top, but tasted overwhelmingly of celeriac to me, so maybe I misheard. Very nice though.
Starter - spider crab risotto. A spiny crab shell is lifted to reveal a beautiful coral-coloured risotto doused in a vibrant green, punguent garlic butter. Really rich, bisque-y flavour of crab, lots of garlic, but on the cusp of being oversalted. Lots of gutsy flavours here and the texture of the rice was perfect. Could have been improved only by some actual chunks of crab meat.
Other choices were chestnut soup, which looked very good and others on our table certainly enjoyed it. I can't actually remember the third option. Must be the wine.
Main - venison casserole with mashed parsnip. Served in a very 1970s mum-style Pyrex dish, which was a bit too deep to make actually eating the stuff easy with a knife and fork. Thankfully a spoon was provided to get to all the good stuff. The venison was amazingly tender, falling off the bone and butter soft. It looked like a shank. Served with the gravy and game chips, with a very liquid parsnip puree. The puree was silkily smooth, but verged on the slimy. But pure essence of parsnip, it has to be said. Others had trout, but I was too involved with my deer to take much notice of that I'm afraid.
Pre-dessert - An egg filled with a custard topped with smashed up caramel/praline. Better that the proper dessert in retrospect. Could have left it there and been very happy.
Pudding - apple tart tartin with cinnamon ice-cream. This was my least favourite course. Pastry was light and buttery, apples apply, but it just lacked wow factor upon tasting it. The ice cream I found quite aerated and not creamy or sweet enough for my taste. The cheese looked very tempting, so maybe next time.
I had a truly lovely meal at Launceston Place, tonight, on Howler's recommendation. Someone on another thread described the restaurant as "good, but not great"; on the basis of this meal, I have to disagree: I think the restaurant is outright great.
Amuse bouche was a savory yogurt sorbet with herbs (I identified dill, parsley and celery seed or celeriac). The bright flavors were really a perfect way to awaken the tongue and nose to the coming meal.
I had an appetizer of west coast scallops roasted with aromatic herbs and wild flowers, which was absolutely stunning both in flavor and appearance. Scallops (two very large ones) were very fresh and served on a half shell. I couldn't identify too many individual components in the herb/flower mixture, but it included a slight hint of anise or fennel and parsley. What I loved about this treatment is that the seasonings never overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the fresh scallops but rather emphasized their sweetness and freshness. Roasting really rounded out the flavor of the scallops, as well. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how mature / complete / perfectly balanced the flavor profile of the dish was -- but I suppose I'll just have to leave it with the assertion that I think this might be the best scallop preparation I've ever eaten.
My main was the Tamworth suckling pig with radishes in a honey emulsion. It was a bit oversalted, but otherwise delicious, and very, very tender. The pork was served in medallions with a bit of crisped pork belly and caramelized radishes. Flavors were straightforward, complementary and well balanced, except for the oversalting.
Pre-dessert was a concoction of whipped cream, bananas, caramel and graham cracker crumbs, I think. It was playful and homey, an artfully executed, adult version of something I enjoyed as a ten year old.
Finally, I had a dessert of "dark chocolate, ice milk and crumble". Dark chocolate came in the form of something that was a cross between ganache and mousse. It was intensely chocolatey, yet managed to avoid being cloying, and worked well with the much lighter ice milk. Crumble (cookie bits) offered a nice textural contrast to all the creamy components.
At 45 pounds, not including the cost of a half bottle of an excellent 2005 Bordeaux I shared with my dining companion -- not marked up too, too much -- and aperitifs, I thought this meal was a complete steal for the quality of the food.
A word on the service: timing was perfect, we were neither hurried nor ignored, servers were extremely pleasant. I walked in without a reservation and waited about fifteen minutes for a table in the comfortable lounge. The bartender sent over freshly fried, garlicky potato chips (crisps) while I waited. The atmosphere was intimate and potentially romantic, the tables well spaced.
Howler, you're very lucky to have this in your neighborhood. I envy you!
full disclosure: its my neighborhood. i arrived in london 8 years ago and fell instantly in love with it - it really is a quiet village nestled between the cromwell road and ken high street. to keep it chow related, check out the butter cupcake store and check out otto e mezzo for italian (i've been a few times - good date place for me and the wife - but i claim i can cook better at home).