French chef Raphael Francois has had an an eclectic career to date, and now he’s showcasing the best of it at Launceston Place, South Kensington
Words Alexander Larman
Launceston Place has enjoyed a reputation not just for being one of west London’s most charming areas, but for boasting one of its best restaurants – the eponymous Michelin-starred destination, Launceston Place. Under the previous Head Chef Timothy Allen, it established itself as somewhere that was both contemporary and timeless.
Under the new Chef Patron Raphael Francois – who will combine his background in French cuisine with contemporary flavours and techniques – the high standards that led to its star will not just be upheld but, hopefully, surpassed. He describes the circumstances that have led to his arrival at the restaurant from his previous position as Executive Chef at New York’s much-loved Le Cirque as ‘the biggest highlight of my career’, and is overflowing with ideas for how to elevate his new establishment to yet greater brilliance.
Raphael describes the circumstances that have led to his arrival at Launceston Place from his previous position at New York’s much-loved Le Cirque as ‘the biggest highlight of my career’
‘Everyone’s very much in the process of getting to know each other: my team, my clientele and myself, so that brings a lot of inspiration,’ Francois tells me. ‘I’m always improving and changing, taking dishes back to basics to create something more with a completely tailored approach. I really want to put Launceston Place back on the map as a Michelin-starred Mecca in Kensington, somewhere foodies would travel to from all over, knowing they’re about to experience a fantastic meal.’
One imagines that he’ll be successful. In part, this is because he’s learnt from the best. ‘I come from a family of great cooks, with that joy and love for food passed from my great grandmother to my grandmother and then onto my parents,’ he says. ‘As a result, I spent a lot of time in various restaurants from a very early age, and of course any gathering back home was all about the food. My first job was working in the kitchens of a restaurant in Giverny after school, as the Chef Patron was short on staff and offered me work in exchange for extra pocket money.’
A glittering career soon saw him go on to work with Hélène Darroze. ‘When I worked with Chef Darroze, she taught me how to be authentic and sophisticated with my cooking, and now I definitely have more autonomy to change the menu as I see fit which is great, but when it comes to my cooking, nothing has changed.
Hélène Darroze taught me how to be authentic and sophisticated with my cooking
‘When I cook something I have to like it – I would never put anything on a menu that I wouldn’t be excited to eat. Likewise, I’d never use any produce in the restaurant that I wouldn’t have in my kitchen at home.’ Other heroes include Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Gagnaire and Brett Graham. ‘They all have something I like in their style of food,’ he explains.
When asked what the difference between New York and London is, Francois replies: ‘I think that diversity is key in both cities, but I would say New York is leaning towards a much more casual approach and I have drawn on that since joining Launceston Place, introducing a lazy Sunday menu including my favourite, waffles.’
A former Notting Hill resident, he loves the area he works in. ‘It’s like a little village, and Launceston Place was exactly right for me in that sense, in that it’s a little boutique restaurant in a great location, with a very close-knit team.’
New York is leaning towards a much more casual approach and I have drawn on that since joining Launceston Place, introducing a lazy Sunday menu including my favourite, waffles
And what about the elephant in the room, aka Brexit? A tricky one, but Francois has a sensible answer. ‘The main concern for the restaurant industry right now is retaining committed staff and making sure they feel welcome in the country.’ One hopes that Launceston Place will continue to have such committed, engaged staff – and with a top-class Chef Patron steering the operation.
1A Launceston Place, South Kensington W8 5RL; 020 7937 6912; launcestonplace-restaurant.co.uk