It’s been a busy time for Angela Hartnett recently what with the opening of her new restaurant Merchants Tavern. Barely has the paint dried on the walls and she’s off again, this time opening Cafe Murano on St James’s Street – she’s doing an Atherton on us!
As it was 50% off food during the soft launch we couldn’t resist booking in for lunch. It was a bright and fairly neutral space inside with a long bar and stool seats in the first half of the room. The white walls and wooden furniture made for a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere.
The menu, presented on a single piece of A4 card featured all Italian fare and was reminiscent of the recently opened Union Street Cafe which is run by Gordon Ramsay – Angela’s ex-boss.
Some focaccia with rosemary and salt got things off to a cracking start; it was undoubtedly the finest focaccia I’ve come across. A good glug of olive oil that was served alongside it was almost spicy which was a nice touch.
From the cicheti section we ordered some truffle arrancini (£3) and the cod cheek & whitebait fritti (£9). As we cut open the arrancino the aroma of truffle quickly filled the air which was heavenly. The little deep fried risotto balls were certainly tasty but could have done with a punchy sauce to cut through the richness. The batter on the whitebait and cod cheeks was superbly crisp and both fish were fresh and cooked perfectly.
From the antipasti section, the warm octopus, chickpeas and pesto (£9.50) had beautifully succulent octopus drenched in a rich tomato sauce. Not being a lover of chickpeas I politely left those for my gentleman companion to gobble up.
The vitello tonnato with capers (£9) was basically cold, thin slices of rare veal with a tuna sauce. Sounds odd I know but I had a similar combination at Apsleys in the Lanesborough and it really works. The quality of the veal and its cooking was superb.
As we were feeling ravenous we decided to order some primi as well. The wild boar fettuccine (£9.50) could have done with larger chunks of boar to bulk it out but the pasta was perfectly made and cooked; impressively thin and delicate.
The risotto Milanese with osso buco (£11.50) was rich and bold in terms of flavour. The saffron risotto was as creamy as it gets and the tender chunks of veal atop added to the heartiness of it all. It was a satisfyingly filling dish.
By the time we got to secondi we were glad we hadn’t ordered any side dishes as we were stuffed! I went for the monkfish tail, brown shrimps and baby gem (£19.50). The monkfish flesh was thick and meaty yet not over cooked which could have been easily done. The addition of little tangy raisin-things (no idea what they were) was an unusual one but after taking some getting used to, they actually worked really well.
My gentleman companion enjoyed the lamb rump, coco beans, pancetta, celery and salsa verde (£18.50) and I know why; that lamb was incredible. Thick slices of soft pink lamb with a layer of crispy fat on top would surely make any vegetarian come to their senses. The coco beans were a rather dry companion for the lamb however – they removed all moisture from every mouthful which seemed a shame.
Feeling stuffed we decided to share the tiramisu (£6.50). In Angela’s Michelin starred restaurant Murano we once had a tiramisu pre-dessert that was so memorable I can still taste it when I close my eyes. This one was just as good, only better because it was served in a massive bowl more than big enough for the two of us to share.
Seeing as this was just a soft launch and the restaurant was still in the very early stages of opening, everything ran smoothly and effortlessly. Our delightful and chatty waitress put us at ease from the minute we were seated. The prices seemed reasonable with the 50% off but I’m not quite sure I would have been so enamoured paying the full price. Either way, with its moneyed location close to Green Park I can see Cafe Murano doing really well – and it deserves to.