Recently we've had to (temporarily) move away from London, as Grace was finishing her current job and to mark the end of an era we wanted to leave with a gourmet bang.
The reviews I'd read of the place were generally positive and as we approached the restaurant on a freezing cold night I was looking forward to some heart-warming fare. I wasn't disappointed.
The restaurant looks like more like a glorified gastro-pub from the outside and the interior is dark, intimate and cosy. We were seated by one of the windows and were brought some lightly spiced handmade crisps to begin with. These were tied up with branded ribbons, which was a nice touch.
Bizarrely, we then had to wait ten fifteen minutes to be given the menu, though to be fair, after that initial slow service the staff redeemed themselves (more of that later).
I love a menu that gets you talking and debating about choices and I was in a real quandary for all three courses, with a number of dishes catching my eye.
Amuse Bouche: Cauliflower soup with truffle oil
Once I'd finally made my mind up, we were served an amuse bouche of cauliflower soup, which was creamy, rich and warming. Just what you need on a cold night!
Unfortunately, the picture of my scallops with aromatic herbs seems to have disappeared into the ether. However, it was beautifully presented on a wooden board with their shells. The two scallops were like father and son. One was huge and the other much smaller. They were perfectly cooked, but I found the accompanying herbs a bit underwhelming. It wasn't a bad dish, but was by far and away the worst course of the evening.
By comparison Grace's starter was a memorable dish.
The potted foie gras was smooth, unctuous and had a hint of spice (we thought it was cinnamon) and it's rich flavour went perfectly with the sweet quince. The liquorice bread offered a contrast and the salt brought out the contrasting flavours further. Grace hasn't raved about a dish so much for a while and she made sure she scraped every last morsel out the jars!
Main Course: Salt Marsh Lamb, Crackling, Sea Beets & Salt Baked Potatoes
Wow! If I have a better dish than this all year I'll be delighted. I loved every element of it. The salt marsh lamb was full of flavour, cooked perfectly pink and just melted in mouth. It was so tender and succulent, I'm salivating just thinking of it.
The accompanying crackling was also a delight. Crunch on first bite, but then you get the underlying fat and a concentrated lamb taste. Why don't they serve these along pork scratchings in pubs?!
I hadn't tried sea beet before and it reminded me a bit of spinach (one of my fav veg) and so just added to my joy. The salt baked potatoes came served in a little plastic bag and were pillowy soft in the middle with crispy skin.
The dish probably contained a month's worth of salt, but I couldn't fault it. Wonderful stuff.
Main Course: Devonshire Duckling, Apples and Alexanders
Grace's main course was also very good. Like the lamb the duck was perfectly cooked with crispy skin and succulent pink breast. I wasn't sure if the apple sauce would work with it (I thought it might overpower the duck), but it went well and the slight tartness in it cut through the slightly oily sauce.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we decided to have some cheese. They kindly let us share one portion and we then cheekily asked if we could have pot of the quince from the starter, as it was so good and this was brought out with no fuss what so ever. A nice touch. We went for a fairly conservative selection, but I had some of my favourite Stinking Bishop and a medium/strong goats cheese.
Dessert: Rice Pudding Souffle, Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream
Grace loved her dessert. It reminded me of an upscale school dinner dessert (well, the rice pudding and raspberry jam did, we didn't have too many souffles at school) and she was scooping every last bit out of the ice cream jar. The souffle has risen perfectly and the rice pudding went perfectly with the creamy, smooth, raspberry ripple ice cream.
Dessert: Set Custard Cream, Caramel and Praline, Malt Ice Cream
My dessert was also very good and had a number of contrasting flavours and textures that I thought worked well together. My favour part was the concentrated malt flavour of the small jellies, these complimented the creamy custard wonderfully and I'd have been happy with just a plate full of that!
Before I finish up I want to say a quick word about the service. After a slow start, the staff really did a good job. After the first course we asked if we could move tables, as we were sat by the window and there was a cold draft and Grace was freezing. This was done immediately and without fuss. The same went for when we asked for the quince to go with the cheese. No problem and delivered quickly and efficiently. Then when we were leaving we were presented with a small box of chocolates to take home.
Overall, I was greatly impressed with Launceston Place and it did exactly what we wanted. A great meal out to celebrate the end of an era and we left with big smiles on our face after a highly satisfactory evening.
It was one of the best meals I've had for a while and I'm amazed the place doesn't have a Michelin star. The service was attentive, the cooking inventive and overall we had a fabulous evening.