Ben Murphy has traded east for west with the plan to rejuvenate local favourite, Launceston Place
Words Alexander Larman
Launceston Place has deservedly acquired a reputation not just for being one of west London’s most charming streets, but for housing one of the best neighbourhood restaurants in town. Under former Head Chef Timothy Allen, the eponymous Launceston Place established itself as somewhere that was both contemporary and timeless.
All has not been entirely well of late, however. The restaurant lost its long-cherished Michelin star under the previous chef-patron, who left after a brief time in post, and now, new arrival Ben Murphy has a great deal riding on his shoulders.
Murphy has arrived from the much-acclaimed east London spot The Woodford, which attracted raves from critics and saw him named Chef to Watch by the Good Food Guide, and his arrival has seen excitement and expectation heaped upon him.
Not that this modest young chef is taking anything for granted. He first started his culinary career when he was 16; he had wanted to be a professional footballer, but his progress in the beautiful game came to an abrupt end when he broke his collarbone. Some would have been crushed by this disappointment, but Murphy turned his ambitions to food instead, and was soon working with the doyen of classical cuisine, Pierre Koffmann.
‘I first acquired some basic cooking skills while I was at catering college, but I perfected those while I was working with Monsieur Koffmann,’ he says.
‘A lot of my earlier work was learning French techniques, but it wasn’t until I worked with him (at Koffmann’s at the Berkeley) that I really understood how they worked; in France, the traditions leant more towards fine dining and I was able to see it for myself in terms of how it works.’
He describes Koffmann, along with Michell Guerard and Eric Fréchon, as the biggest influences on his career, and it isn’t hard to see why; like his mentors, he combines classical precision with a sense of fun and excitement. No wonder that his soon-to-be signature dishes are eggs, celeriac and brioche, or carrot with lovage, yogurt and caraway seeds, which he describes as ‘very simple but really tasty’.
The move from The Woodford, which for all its acclaim remained a neighbourhood restaurant in the semi-forgotten borough of South Woodford, to Launceston Place – an iconic west London destination – might have phased some, but Murphy is philosophical about the move.
‘Every restaurant has its own scene and something that makes it special. It really depends on the customers: at the Woodford, the clientele were going more into what you might call an Essex direction, but here at Launceston Place it’s classier. Even if people perceive it as expensive, it will be a memorable experience.’
It helps that he’s in complete control of what he’s doing; he says that ‘here, I get to put my own stamp on the food and showcase what I love to cook. In addition, the restaurant only has 60 covers so I have more room for good execution’.
Of course, for a man in his mid-20s, Murphy has achieved a vast amount. He claims that his greatest achievements to date are winning a ‘Restaurant of the Year’ award at the Woodford in 2016, and being able to work with renowned chefs, but there are surely many more attainments left ahead of him, including, potentially, the re-acquisition of a Michelin star for Launceston Place.
‘The star is a big thing for the restaurant because they recently lost one, but I don’t cook for recognition from Michelin, I cook for customers. Obviously, if we get one it will be a bonus!’
Like a lot of leading chefs, he’s not attempting to recreate the intricate dishes he perfects for the restaurant at home; he enjoys cooking ‘simple food… I was brought up on chicken dinosaurs and smiley potato faces. I like doing comfort foods. My desert island meal would be mac ‘n’ cheese – you can’t beat it’. And what of the future?
As Murphy has only been at Launceston Place for the proverbial five minutes, he’s hardly thinking ahead to the next challenge yet, but as he says: ‘I’m happy here now. I have a really good support system and I want to make everyone proud.’
One imagines that Ben Murphy will be bringing smiley faces to a lot of people, but hopefully not of the potato variety…
1A Launceston Place W8 5RL; 020 7937 6912; launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk