Taking a sabbatical from working life means that Pete and I have been able to indulge in that most gratifying treat – the long, lingering lunch at somewhere a step above the normal workaday lunch stop.
Last month, one of those we chose to visit was Launceston Place. Not only had I read plenty of glowing reviews (from fellow food bloggers and twitter friends) I was also seduced by the price of their lunch menu – £20 for 3 courses at a restaurant of this calibre seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?
The friendly and helpful staff I spoke to when calling to make a reservation were happy to talk me through the kind of dishes on the menu (there is a sample on their website but I had no idea how up-to-date it was), the lunch time dress code and a couple of other minor questions I had. And they were gracious too when I called to change the time of our booking the night before. (This might not seem worthy of comment but who hasn’t had a supercilious member of staff from one or other high-end restaurant try and put you in your place or make you feel that they are bestowing a great favour just by speaking to you let alone deigning to let you dine with them?)
We were seated at a spacious, bright corner table next to the window. Clever lighting meant that even with deeply dark brown walls, the interior didn’t feel gloomy. It struck an accomplished balance between warm, traditional decor and clean, modern styling.
Our waiters were friendly and quick. We were soon served with water, freshly squeezed orange juice and a bowl of spiced parsnip crisps served tied in a ribbon reading Launceston Place. I love parsnip crisps and these really were superb, though the ribbon was a bit of a fiddle to undo. Just the right amount of spice to add a kick and bring out the natural sweetness of the root and cooked to just the right crisp. Very more-ish!
Butter on a pebble was brought to the table and brown or white bread offered – soft, fresh and with a lovely crunchy crust.
The amuse-bouche, served in a tiny glass bowl, was a thin cauliflower soup with a crème fraiche foam or mousse on top and truffle oil drizzled over. In truth, I didn’t love this, though I found the flavours intriguing. The usual thick, creamy richness of cauliflower was absent, or perhaps just neutered by the tartness of the crème fraiche. Still, it did it’s job of waking up my palate and it did have me screwing up my brow in concentration as I tried to find the words to describe it’s curious overall taste. (I failed, so best go in and try for yourself!)
I find it almost impossible to resist the allure of foie gras and I didn’t resist this time. My Potted foie gras, Maldon sea salt was delicious. Unable to identify the extra flavour, I asked our waiter if it was paprika. He checked and told us madeira and cinammon, I think. Whatever it was, it was subtle and added only the most delicate hint of spice. The foie gras was as rich and unctuous and delicious as I’d expect. The salt was superfluous as the liver was well seasoned. It was served with toasted slices of that same delicious bread we had been served earlier.
Pete was equally delighted with Cep risotto, Spenwood cheese. Served in a little copper pan (I alarmed Pete by looking at it and asking “oooh, is that Mauviel?”, especially when it turned out to be the case) it was wonderfully creamy and had the most fantastic mushroom umami depth of flavour. The cheese worked wonderfully well and the single slice of cep was, I’m told, “awfully tasty”!
Both of us selected the Crispy suckling pig, parsnips and parsley. Whilst I can understand why those expecting a traditional, British style crackling might be disappointed, I absolutely loved the crunchy and yet chewy texture of the skin. It was crispy, yes but had an underlying elasticity that made it stick like glue to one’s teeth, a texture I most commonly associate with Chinese cuisine. The meat was succulent and tasty, though with not quite the intensity of flavour of the recent St John Restaurant suckling pig (though in that case, the skin wasn’t as good). The pork was served on a cauliflower puree, the mild sweetness of which worked well against the meat, the deeply savoury, thick gravy and the tiny slices of raw onion.
After our main courses we were served a second amuse-bouche of mulled red wine mousse, pear sorbet and tiny slivers of crisp orange. Not a fan of red wine, I didn’t enjoy the mousse, though the sorbet was bursting with fresh fruit flavour. Pete really enjoyed the combination of the two eaten together, as no doubt intended.
The choices for dessert disappointed me. Not because all three didn’t appeal – they did. But because, if you’re trying to lunch on a budget and you don’t happen to share the tastes of your dining companion, your are left with only one choice. The apple tart, home made clotted cream must be ordered for two and cheese from the trolley carries a £6.00 supplement.
I would much rather the base price of the menu were raised by £2 or £3 to allow supplements to be scrapped, or that a fixed choice cheese plate were offered in place of the cheese trolley, which should allow costs to be lowered. But then, supplements on limited-choice, fixed-price menus are a huge bug bear of mine!
So both of us opted for the Banana sticky toffee pudding, Guinness ice cream. I couldn’t discern any banana in the pudding itself, though it was a tasty enough sticky toffee pudding. It could have done with some toffee sauce – that elegantly drawn curved line of plate decoration doesn’t count. The taste of stout came through clearly in the Guiness ice cream and worked well with the other elements in the dish. The thin slice of banana with it’s neat topping of crisp, caramelised sugar was fantastic, not least in the way the banana remained uncooked beneath it’s lid. The only flavour that didn’t work for me was the aniseedy and mildly astringent splosh of cream. Our waiter said it was a vanilla cream but to me, it tasted like sour cream and I couldn’t escape the (unwelcome) hint of liquorice.
With coffee we were served this sweet little stoppered jar of chocolate coated nuts.
To sum up, we very much enjoyed the meal and the service and surroundings too. When one takes the price into account, I think the Launceston Place lunch deal really is a steal. Thanks to food blogger and twitter friends for the recommendation!