Launceston Place, once a favourite of Princess Diana’s, is one of those restaurants that makes you remember why you missed dining out so much. It’s chic, secluded and a bit of a London institution
Photography courtesy of Launceston Place
Note: this review is based on a between-lockdowns visit in November 2020
Launceston Place is one of those restaurants that makes you remember why you missed dining out so much. At time of writing, it’s one week before indoor dining opens up once more, and we couldn’t be more excited about planning a return visit to this elegant South Kensington spot. Here’s why…
This chic and secluded restaurant, which is housed in an elegant mid-1900s townhouse, is a bit of a London institution. It’s been popular with the in crowd ever since it opened in 1986, but not in a shouty way – it’s always been more of an ‘if you know, you know’ type situation.
It was at one time a favourite of Princess Diana, and you can imagine her finding peace and comfort in its soothing surroundings – lights are dim, tones tastefully muted, and there’s an air of refined calm that encourages you to relax the second you arrive. On a chilly evening, it’s also welcomingly cosy, with a golden glow emanating from its large curved windows as we walk up the gorgeous street it shares its name with.
It’s late October, and while restaurants are operational at present, it’s not quite business as usual. Masks are worn by staff, as well as us when we’re not seated, and we suspect there are fewer tables filling the elegant dining room as there otherwise may have been.
The atmosphere, however, isn’t impacted by the rules one bit, and as we take our seats at a corner table, everything that’s brilliant about dining out comes flooding back: the glamour, the anticipation, the general thrill of being somewhere you know is going to look after you… It’s all here by the beautiful bucketload.
‘First up is ‘egg and soldiers’, which sees a painstakingly hollowed-out eggshell filled with light-as-air fois gras, topped with a flutter of truffle shavings’
Attentions turn to the menu, and it comes with a twist – a cartoon version of Head Chef Ben Murphy is printed on a square of paper in a small wooden stand on the table, with a QR code on his apron. Hover your camera over it and the menu of Modern European dishes appears on your screen like magic, with emojis indicating the nature of each dish. It’s a fun touch you wouldn’t normally find when it comes to fine dining – a theme that continues throughout the meal.
First up is ‘egg and soldiers’, which sees a painstakingly hollowed-out eggshell filled with light-as-air fois gras, topped with a flutter of truffle shavings, and served in an egg cup with feet. It’s creamy and dreamy with big flavours and we instantly love – and devour – it.
Celeriac with mint and pecorino follows and is a total flavour-bomb, with the humble root vegetable elevated to heady new heights by clever cooking and thoughtful accompaniments.
Next, perfectly pink Presa Iberica arrives on its own mini barbeque, with a small shopping trolley containing wickedly crunchy-outside-luscious-inside potatoes alongside.
The theatre of all this is not lost on us – indeed, after a restaurant-free few months, it’s the showmanship we’ve craved, and serves to remind us of just how glorious restaurants really are. The tiny Henry Hoover that comes out between courses to deal with your crumbs is a particularly nice touch.
‘It’s the final frivolous flourish of a meal that’s memorable not simply for being the first eaten out for a while, but the very best example of what eating out can actually be’
Creative presentation and cookery continues until the very end, when homemade sour raspberry laces – almost identical to the ones we loved as children (in looks only – they taste much better) – arrive with tiny caramel and chocolate tartlets on a miniature metal clothes horse.
It’s the final frivolous flourish of a meal that’s memorable not simply for being the first eaten out for a while, but the very best example of what eating out can actually be. It’s playful and fun, serious and impressive, and suitably showy.
Somewhere to please high-end diners, Instagram darlings and special occasion parties all at once – as well as those of us who simply want to remind ourselves of everything we’ve missed about restaurants.
Launceston Place reopens on 19 May at 1a Launceston Place, Kensington W8 5RL; launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk
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