This is MiMi of meemalee’s kitchen keeping the Grubworm’s blogging seat warm for him as he wends his way around the world …
A while back, there was some discussion on Twitter as to whether you should cut a restaurant some slack if the head chef was off that day. Metro critic Marina O’Loughlin had reviewed Koffmann’s and had found it lacking – turns out Chef Pierre was at Noma in Copenhagen.
Some people argued that it was unfair to expect the food to be as good as usual if he wasn’t in the kitchen; I was on the side of those who maintained it shouldn’t make a difference.
Someone then said to me that they’d gone to Launceston Place on two occasions, the first when head chef Tristan Welch was there and they’d had a wonderful meal, the second when he was away and it had been decidedly un-wonderful.
Now, I don’t tend to review a restaurant more than once unless I feel I have something to add, but I do revisit the ones I like, and Launceston Place is definitely in that category.
I have to admit though that it had been a while since we’d gone back to visit, so, concerned by this complaint of inconsistency, my husband and I trotted over to South Ken and popped in for lunch unannounced.
It had obviously been longer than I’d thought since we’d last been there, as I didn’t recognise any of the front of house, but they were as friendly and welcoming as the ones before.
We went for the set menu of three courses for £22. Shortly after, some whipped butter and bread appeared, along with a jar of pickled herrings and onions which were perfectly piquant.
Being a menu fascist, I bullied my husband into agreeing to try different dishes for each course. He had watercress soup, smoked eel and poached quail egg, I had braised short ribs, white polenta.
Mine was the meaty winner, but he did far from badly – the verdant broth was as vibrant on the tongue as it was to the eye.
For mains, I picked onglet of rosé veal, beef tomatoes and wild leeks and he had free range chicken cooked “au vin”, home cured bacon.
Frankly, I thought the chicken sounded boring and I chuckled in sadistic anticipation, but in fact husband’s dish trumped mine (just), as the lacquered chicken was incredibly moist and well-seasoned, and the bacon was a hunk of hammy heaven.
That’s not to say my veal wasn’t good, and the tomatoes were the most intensely flavoured I’d ever tried, but I felt that it was a little insubstantial, and would have worked better as a starter, with the rich short ribs and polenta I’d begun with as the main.
We were then treated to a palate cleanser of lemon posset which we lapped up with relish.
Finally came the puds – probably my husband’s favourite part of a meal since I cruelly never make them at home.
The baked egg custard, rhubarb and crumble came in a slightly comical boat and was a weirdly bright orange-yellow. The waitress assured me that this was due to the not-so-secret ingredient of using tinned Bird’s custard in the crumble mix.
It was gorgeous at any rate, though I wished it was larger and the boat made it a little difficult to eat without flicking crumbs everywhere.
The treacle tart and crème fraiche ice-cream was also top-notch. The latter was a pleasant surprise and I vowed to force my mother-in-law to make it, since she insists on serving crème fraiche with all her desserts and au naturel it makes me retch.
We thought we were done, but then a bowl of warm financiers arrived with a jar of whipped lemon cream.
These were the loveliest petits fours I’ve had in a long time and we fought over the little cakes.
We asked for the bill and the million dollar question – “Is Tristan in today?”.
The waitress smiled apologetically and said, “He’s not, no – his sous is in charge – did you have any problems?”.
“No, just say thank you to the kitchen for us – we’ve had a brilliant meal”, I said, and happy that they hadn’t let the ball drop in the head chef’s absence, we paid the paltry bill and wandered off into the sunshine towards the V&A.
Since our visit, the cost of the set lunch menu has risen slightly to £23. Launceston Place also now offers a three course lunch menu, a glass of wine and coffee for £30.
1a Launceston Place
London W8 5RL
020 7937 6912