Head chef Tristan Welch has brought a modern British touch to Launceston Place, the latest addition to D&D London's portfolio. Tom Vaughan reports
After moving to one of London's priciest streets Tristan Welch is probably among the few recent arrivals not to pack £10m in his wallet and a job in hedge funds. The talented former Pétrus head chef was brought in by D&D London to front the restaurant Launceston Place, named after its host road, shortly after it acquired the site in October 2007. It is perched among rows of quaint multimillion-pound housing - all stucco frontages and cherry blossom gardens - and there's certainly no lack of loaded local custom here for Welch to woo.
The restaurant opened in March after five months of planning. The inside has been revamped: chocolaty walls, white tablecloths and a convivial, chic feel maintain a formality to suit the moneyed Kensington crowd. The most noticeable change, for those familiar with Welch's cooking at Pétrus, is a switch from modern French to modern British cuisine.
The menu is littered with seasonal British produce - nettles, wild garlic, spring onion, rhubarb - a springtime Top of the Crops. Welch's asparagus dish boasts plump spears, vac-packed with olive oil and butter to lock in the flavour, cooked in a water bath and served with a slowly poached quail's egg and a thin rectangle of spring onion tart that brings sweet high notes to the dish.
There are modern frills to Welch's cooking - foams and reductions and so forth - but he admits that one goal at Launceston Place is to simplify his style. "I'm trying my best to lose the poncy side. It's really easy sometimes to go over the top with things," he says. "I want to resist the temptation to be one of these guys that puts 20 things on a plate."
The scallop starter is a good example. Fat, sweet, pan-fried hand-dived scallops are served with thin shreds of apple and a sorrel foam. The flavours are simplicity itself, the scallops cooked expertly, the foam the modern technique.
The pâté in the roast duck foie gras, rhubarb compote and elderflower milk soup is one of the 20% of ingredients not sourced in the UK but, with the dish flying out of the kitchen, Welch says there'd be a riot if he took it off.
The sweetness of the compote comes in first before the richness of the foie gras rounds off the mouthful with a buttery finish. Because the foie gras is deep-fried, lots of the fat that'd come out in the pan remains, so when the meat and rhubarb are finished you're left with a warm, unctuous soup of milk, elderflower and foie gras drippings. "A deliciously guilty pleasure" is how Welch describes it.
The mains reek of Britishness. Both Cornish mackerel on toast with green tomatoes and Cambridge sauce, and Tamworth suckling pig, creamed onions and warm potato salad are simple, well executed dishes presented with modernity.
"Drunken" flamed quail is flambéd at the table and served on a pared-down plate of hazelnuts and wild chervil, while house smoked salmon is smoked for one-and-a-half minutes under a glass cloche and served as such to the table with a simple salad of watercress and turnip.
The menu is in a constant state of change, says Welch. As much as 90% of it has changed since the restaurant opened, and there are numerous dishes currently on his hit list for revamping.
At present, the desserts menu is awaiting the British red fruit season. Dishes among walnut cream, banana sorbet and toffee mousse chilled fruit and vegetable broth and bitter lemon and thyme sorbet can expect to make way once strawberries and the like start appearing in the markets.
The restaurant seats 65 and is booking out most nights, although lunch covers are much lower, at 20-ish, something Welch is looking to address by lightening the midday menu. Three courses cost £35, and a six-course tasting menu is priced at £45.
Welch has been on a creative roll since taking over Launceston Place, and you can be sure there's more to come. "I've been a little bit less restrained since leaving Pétrus, a little bit more me," he says. "I'm enjoy doing something modern, gastronomical and British."
Also on the menu
- Nettle soup and chilled horseradish
- Jersey Royal potatoes, oscietra caviar, parsley, Hereford cream (£14 supplement)
- Gressingham duck, turnips and radishes
- Braised salmon, shallot and mushroom compote, artichoke, soft wild herbs
- Cumbrian rose veal loin, beetroot purée, wild garlic, fresh cheese
- Puff pastry of new-season cherries and pistachio
- Brown bread parfait, spiced Mayan chocolate
- Selection of seasonal cheeses (£5 supplement)
Launceston Place, 1a Launceston Place, London W8 5RL. Tel: 020 7937 6912
Away from the stove
"I went to Noma [in Copenhagen] a while ago. I loved the simplicity and the twist on service whereby some of the chefs will serve the food."