Lunch at Launceston Place

I’ve had this week off work, most of it spent doing odd jobs here and there or, yesterday, pulling my hair out over a bizarre, confusing and infuriating laptop problem. Today, though, was set aside as my little treat. So before going to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum nearby, I had lunch at Launceston Place. Reviews when it (re)opened a little under a year ago were largely favourable, with some nudging at extremes both good and bad. My opinion, in brief: for £18, it’s astonishing value.

Not everything, though, was perfect. An amuse bouche of cauliflower soup with a creme fraiche foam and truffle oil, which “can be drunk like an espresso”, said the wafer (I don’t drink coffee, but I assumed he meant that I should sip it. My usual definition of “drink like an espresso” would be: throw down the sink when no one’s looking). I ordered “ham, egg and chips” by way of started, smelling an ironic reimagining of a British classic. What I got was a generous portion of wonderful, thinly-sliced ham served with tiny crisps and a bright yellow egg-yolk gel. The ham was great, but egg-yolk-flavoured gel? It was tapdancing dangerously close to unpleasant.

From there, onwards and upwards. My braised veal with risotto and artichoke was excellent and the confit fennel which I ordered as a side delicious (with a glass of Hugel pinot blanc, 2006, which suited my mood perfectly and the food quite well) . The pre-desert of vanilla cooked cream with hazelnut crumble (creme brulee, almost) and a nougatine soldier, served in a hollowed-out egg, was wonderful. But the pudding was the highlight: apple tart with cinnamon ice cream. They were on to a winner: the only thing I like more than a good tarte tatin is a good cinnamon ice cream. The menu said it was to share, between two, but the waiter said the chef would create a single-person version just for me. Would he hell: I got a big one all to myself and, shamefully, I couldn’t finish it. If I’m being ultra-critical, the apple could have had just the slightest bite left to it, but it was pretty much perfect. Lunch took almost two hours, cost £30 and was ruddy great value (all the better for missing out on the liquid petit four of spiced, dense hot chocolate that got the thumbs down from adjoining tables).

Dining on your own means you don’t do much talking, but you notice everything. The bloke who looked like Simon Schama (possibly Simon Schama), wearing tracksuit bottoms which were tucked into his socks. The chef who snuck out of a side door as service wound down for a cigarette: lanky hair, arms covered in tattoos, like a comic-book criminal. The way people in Kensington just look different, more affluent, than people in normal London. I must go there again…

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