To mark our visit to Last Night of the Proms (a truly momentous event, see my post on it here) I decided that we needed a suitably impressive meal beforehand. We also, quite importantly, needed somewhere nearby to the Royal Albert Hall so that we could get over there for the 7:30pm start. Fortunately I knew of just such a place, Launceston Place, which is ten minutes’ walk away and perfectly situated in the attractive back streets of South Kensington. I had been to this restaurant before a couple of years ago (B.B. “before blog”) and had been impressed with the service and the food at this establishment, but also with the sincerity and detail that the Head Chef, Tim Allen, had given me when we spoke after I’d provided some feedback on the dining experience. Since we last went the restaurant has been awarded a Michelin Star and Tim has become a regular fixture on TV cooking programmes. We were long overdue a return visit.
Normally on a Saturday evening the restaurant only offers its Tasting Menu, however as we needed to be in and out quickly to be in time for the start of the concert we were able to select three courses from the Tasting Menu to make a pre-Theatre menu. The staff were well briefed about our need for brevity and they made sure that we were able to leave the restaurant exactly on time without us feeling like we were being rushed at any time.
Our menu started with a pretty amuse bouche of Heritage Tomatoes and Dijon Mustard Ice Cream.
The choice of starters was truly a tricky one. My parents had joined us for dinner so we were able to make sure that we tried all three of the starter options. I plumped for the Cepes served with Iberico Ham and Lardo, Provence Figs and Aged Sherry Vinegar, which was simply glorious. The cepes were incredible, they had a gorgeous, firm texture to them and a really meaty flavour. The combination of sweet figs and oily, fatty, nutty Iberico ham to accompany the cepes was inspired and the vinegar sauce gave that touch of acidity to bring it all together. The dish also featured an added extra of a poached quail’s egg wrapped in strands of potato which had been deep fried. I’d say that this was probably the best starter I’d had in a long time. An honourable mention should also be given to the starter that my mother chose: Pork Jowl with Braised Lettuce, Red Chicory and Apricot. We debated who had chosen better here as the slow-cooked pork jowl was wonderfully juicy, giving that “melt in the mouth” sensation; I think I ‘won’ but my mother believed that she did.
For the main course we all had Salt Marsh Lamb with “Flavours of Provence”. There were two sections of lamb, one that had been cooked in a water bath before being pan-fried for a touch of colour. As you will see from the picture the meat was nice and pink, but not overly so and was deliciously tender and succulent. There was also a section of lamb’s shoulder which had been slow cooked and had a deeper, slightly richer and earthier flavour to it. The dish was served with a selection of daintly presented but richly flavoured accoutrements, including aubergine puree, courgettes and pea puree. This was a high class dish that gave centre stage to the undeniable quality of the ingredients; the focus was on letting the ingredients and the flavour combinations speak for themselves.
To have with the lamb I picked a bottle that I was rather pleased to see on the list. Only days earlier I had been at the Pollen Street Social and discussing my love of German wines with the sommelier, he told me that I had to try out a producer called Jean Stodden from the Ahr region who makes the best Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) in Germany. How felicitous it was then that just a few days later I found the 2012 Recher Herrenberg (Rech, Ahr, Germany) from Weingut Stodden. It was beautifully bright and fresh with a flashing acidity to it, plenty of red fruit on the palate (strawberries and cranberries) and had a clean and purifying finish. A gorgeous wine and one that I was very pleased to have tried. 8.5/10.
Before we had pudding we were given a palate cleansing “tastes and textures of lemon” which contained lemon curd ice cream (divine) and a lemon granite.
For dessert we were served a Raspberry Delice with White Chocolate Aero and Caramalised White Chocolate. In this dish you could see that Tim and his team were showing off their deft hands at presentation as the dish was beautifully presented (I must confess that I was a little delayed in taking the photo, hence why the white chocolate has started to melt). The delice was light and airy and had beautiful flavours of raspberry, which was augmented by the little cubes of raspberry dotted around the dish alongside actual raspberries. The white chocolate “aero” was a lot of fun and had a texture absolutely reminiscent of the chocolate bar of the same name. The creaminess of the white chocolate ice cream was complimented nicely by the acidity of the raspberries. This was an excellent dessert.
So there you have it, three courses (plus a number of in-between courses) of remarkable quality. The focus here clearly is on taking excellent produce and finding dishes that showcase them through flavour combinations and beautiful presentation. The service was good and attentive all the way through and they were poised enough to not bat an eyelid when I changed into my suit for the Last Night of the Proms outfit…