Launceston Place, Kensington
The idea of going for dinner on a first date strikes fear into the hearts of most. Add a Michelin star to the mix and you’re literally daring them to flake. Launceston Place in Kensington is old school West London dining in its simplest form – no eclectic fusion menus, no Scando/Modernist interiors, barely a reflective surface in sight. It’s just a classy blue house, on a mews near Gloucester Road, where you can enjoy exceptional food and wine in a dining room with less than 12 people. Parties of two will be seated perpendicular to each other at white-clothed tables where, in the evening, the candlelight and wine glasses as big as cereal bowls calm you right down. This is an unexpected 4-5 hour date, and surprisingly reasonable thanks to some great set menus (£35 for 3 courses, plus way too much on drinks).
While nursing your cocktails in the wooden-paneled reception room, you’ll be handed a pile of menus: wine, cocktails, a la carte, taster, set meals and the Sunday lunch. Your friendly and clipped waiter will then talk you through some specials to add into the burgeoning mix and inform you that whatever combinations you desire are possible. If you’d like to sub dessert with brandy, go for it. It’s this ease of ordering that makes LP different from rather stuffier Michelin joints and makes a dinner date considerably less stressful.
Go for meat in every course, the more game the better. The Partridge breast with rosemary potato puree is insanely good, as is the frozen crumbly foie gras that features in several dishes. An amuse bouche of cauliflower mousse with hidden curried lentils and truffle oil will rock your goddamn world – we would have necked those all night. You may be too full for cheese, which is a shame as the tray is enormous, but the mignon chocolate ball with salted caramel , foamy bits et al, is a fitting enough end to a damn perfect meal.
The obvious option would be to go for an evening meal here. However, if you’re ballsy enough, I’d suggest the following. Meet on a Sunday at 2pm. Head into the front room, shake off the cliché of a Bloody Mary and order two stiff Manhattans – whiskey on a Sunday, now we’re talking. Chat away for a minimum of 30 minutes, choosing your dishes while seated. Balk the trad vibe and dress messy chic – you’ll feel like true comrades being the tipsy ones amongst Sunday Best diners. Enjoy the meal, I mean really enjoy it. Eat everything, don’t treat the dishes like sharing plates, stick to your own. Ask the friendly Spanish sommelier to suggest a good red wine, finish a bottle and then get two more glasses. Show how comfortable you are in this setting by doing something atypical, like engaging the waiter in a bet. Win and it’s two more drinks on the house. The restaurant is now empty, the evening beckons and you can stumble out before the dinner service. There’s no one left in there to disapprove, and the booze has dumbed the surprising blow of the bill.
The set menu is very reasonable. But go to town on the booze and you’re in deep water.
3. Totally mood and time of the day dependent, but a real treat nevertheless.