A few years ago my boss took me to Murano, Angela Hartnett’s michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair, for a celebratory lunch, and it was one of the best meals I’ve had in London. So, when I heard that Hartnett was planning on opening a café-style version (therefore cheaper!) I knew that it was somewhere I would want to visit as early as possible. In fact, I ended up going to Café Murano for lunch twice in the space of a week. Once was for work (it was impossible to get a table so we sat at the bar, which was actually quite fun), and once with friends and family. On both occasions the food was wonderful and the staff were welcoming – I was able to chat away to the bartender in Italian – but my second visit was rather overshadowed by the fact that the food took far too long to arrive.
On both occasions we started with a bowl of the truffle arancini (from the cicchetti section of the menu), which are delicious balls of rice mixed with cheese and a hint of truffle, perfectly crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside; and just the right size to pop in your mouth whole.
The bread is also worth mentioning (though I failed to ask whether it’s made in-house): marvellously crisp and made with a fair amount of olive oil. There was no need for the extra dish of oil that accompanied it:
When I had lunch at Café Murano with a colleague, we both ordered a la carte, but when I returned a few days later, three of the four of us chose the Set Lunch menu, while I ordered another item from the list of cicchetti as well as a salad from the antipasti section of the main menu. You would think that ordering from the set menu, plus two very simple dishes from the a la carte, would mean that the food was brought quickly, but we ended up waiting almost an hour for our first course to arrive, and the dishes themselves were really quite simple.
Some ordered proscuitto e melone (which, as we all know, requires hardly any preparation). Ok, so it’s not the most exciting of dishes, but perhaps a little more attention to presentation wouldn’t have hurt:
I should point out that, on the menu, it’s called ‘San Daniele, Cantaloupe melon’.
Others went for the grilled mackerel, which came with a citrus salad:
Having shared the bruschetta with caponata with my colleague on my previous visit, I knew it was very good and this time I wanted a portion to myself! The bread, again, was the stand-out, amazingly crisp, and the caponata was good, but not quite as full of flavour as my favourite (still that at Bocca di Lupo). For me it didn’t have the right sweet/sour balance essential for the very best caponata; Café Murano’s version is slightly too sweet. Full marks for presentation though – it’s even served to you on a wooden board. It does rather demand to be eaten with your fingers, though in doing so it’s tricky not to make a mess…
Given that I didn’t want pasta or risotto, there weren’t quite enough options for me as a vegetarian who also doesn’t eat fish, (I had tried the delicious gnocchi with artichokes and morels on my previous visit), so I followed the bruschetta with the spring vegetable and ricotta salad that I’d had as a starter the week before. Although at this point it was almost ninety minutes after we’d arrived and we’d only had one course. I had to return to the office so we were forced to ask one of the waiters if he could bring my dish ahead of everyone else’s.
The salad is a beautiful looking – and tasting – celebration of spring, with assorted vegetables, ranging from different types of lettuce through to peas and beans, leeks and herbs. They are also very generous with the creamy, homemade ricotta; luckily there was some bread left over to help me finish it off.
We also ordered two contorni: grilled cauliflower (which normally comes with almonds, though as one of our party was allergic to nuts we asked for them to be excluded) and runner beans with chilli and garlic.
The cauliflower was exceptional, softened under the grill yet not too much (though I personally would have liked to try it with the added texture and crunch of the almonds). We all agreed it was one of the best examples of cauliflower we’d ever tried!
The beans were huge, liberally covered in garlic and butter, but with just a hint of chilli (they could have done with a touch more heat for me, but then I put chilli in most things…). Again, they were perfectly cooked; no mushy vegetables here. I also loved how they were presented in a rustic red pan.
Eventually my companions’ main courses arrived, just in time for me to take a picture before I had to dash back to work. One had ordered the risotto with pine nuts and pesto. I didn’t try it but was assured it was ‘delicious’. It’s difficult to make a bowl of rice look good, yet the different colours present in this bowl do help it look more interesting:
The other main course on offer on the set menu that day was hake with tomatoes, samphire and new potatoes:
It had become apparent during the course of our meal that the problems only concerned our table; for whatever reason, we were just unlucky. Once the staff had realised this they were very gracious and apologetic about it, and did what they could to enable me to return to the office on time. I later discovered that they had not charged my friends for the wine they drank, so that our meal for four actually came to about the same price as my lunch for two (without wine) a few days previously.
Despite the issues in the kitchen that day, I would definitely recommend Café Murano (and Murano, of course, if you can stretch that far financially) and am looking forward to going back when they change the menu so that I can try some different dishes.
Categories: Food & Drink