This review has been sitting in my drafts for a good couple of months. Mainly because I drank so much red wine on the night that it has taken me that long to piece my memories of it together. But what memories I do have are all good. Cafe Murano is the second recent opening involving Angela Hartnett, the other being Merchants Tavern that opened in late 2013 as well. From what I could tell from the very little information given away before its opening, it was basically going to serve up affordable Italian food; and being the younger sister of the Michelin starred Murano it was hard to resist this combo. I went on the first Friday it had opened, but there was nothing to suggest that they were having any teething problems. The staff were excellent and the food was top notch at very reasonable prices.
Inside a long bar area leads to the main dining room. Unfortunately we never got to experience the warmth of that room as we were given the worst table in the restaurant, stuck between the cloak room, the check-in desk and the front door. This meant we were cold and also constantly had people standing over our table. It also made the atmosphere less lively as we were tucked away from the action. This is the only complaint I have from the night. Thankfully the waitress serving us was excellent, and soon the food and drink made up for it.
We started with a couple of cocktails. A Cubism, which was basically an Italian spin on a Mojito, and was a little too heavy on the bitter and light handed on the rum. And my partner went for an Amaretto and cherry based drink, that tasted exactly like a cherry bakewell tart. The cocktails were nothing special, and it made me think that this isn’t a cocktail kind of place. Had this been Soho, I’d have got it. But here, with the quiet bar counter, it just didn’t fit. We turned to the wine list, which is made up of an extensive and fairly pricey selection of Italians and not really paying too much attention I went for what turned out to be a too drinkable red for £35.
Now the food. Had it not been for the waitress I’d have probably ordered the whole lot. I was in a particularly indecisive mood and couldn’t understand how this menu worked with all the different sized plates. I’d love for somebody to explain the Italian system to me, as I had the same problem at Cecconi’s and ended up having a five course lunch. The waitress kind of helped by telling us some people try everything, others just go for a bowl of pasta. The gist of it was basically to just order whatever sounded good.
To get things going some fresh foccacia came which on its own wasn’t the best I’ve had, but the oil it came with (exclusive to Cafe Murano we were told) was some of the best I’ve had. Next were the Truffle Arancini (for only £3!). I would have happily eaten them all day. Just enough truffle (oil I guess) so that it wasn’t sickly. This was Mayfair’s version of the pork scratching. As bar snacks go, it was as good as it gets.
Joining it was Mozzarella and Charred Aubergine (£6.50). This was an incredibly light dish, and it was a perfect example of how all you need to do with great ingredients is keep things simple.
The Warm Octopus, Chickpeas & Pesto (£9.50) was probably my least favourite of the night. I’d have liked more of a hit from the pesto, and it wasn’t the biggest portion I’ve seen.
For main my partner won the battle to have first choice (I couldn’t argue as it was her birthday) and she went for the Risotto Milanese, Osso Buco (£15). The risotto was perfectly al dente, but a little on the runny side. I always thought risotto should hold its shape a bit more, but I’m no expert. It was a little salty as well, but not enough to take anything away from how good this dish was. It was the poshest of comfort foods and so warming we soon forgot we were sitting by the door.
I went for the Roast Silver Mullet, Potatoes, Olives & Thyme (£15), and it wasn’t the most exciting plate of food I’ve seen. It all looked a little bit flat. The fish was cooked to perfection, as were the potatoes. But there wasn’t much else to it other than good ingredients well executed. I was extremely jealous of my partner’s dish.
I finished things off with the best Tiramisu (£6.50) I have ever eaten. It was comfortably big enough to be shared, but after being trumped on mains I kept it to myself. The sponge was soaked in booze and strong coffee and the cream was light. I’d heard about the Tiramisu at Murano, but didn’t expect it to be this good.
My partner chose the Apple Crostata and a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream, which was good, but there was no doubting who was licking their lips more. I’d go back just for that Tiramisu.
The bill came to just over £180, which for a restaurant that offers simply cooked, affordable Italian food might sound like a lot. But we had our fair share of booze, and admittedly the cocktails weren’t needed, nor was the second bottle of red. The small plates can add up though if you’re in a particular hungry mood, or like us just don’t understand the way an Italian menu works. But you could quite easily come in here and have a glass of wine, a great bowl of pasta and some of those truffle risotto balls for less than £30. We had a fantastic meal, and if this was only the first week, then I’m sure things will only go from strength to strength.
33 St James’s St, St James’s, SW1A 1HD