I am a devotee of Angela Hartnett and some of my most enduring food memories are of memorable meals at her restaurants. The Chef’s table at the Connaught over fifteen years ago stands out; as do casual Sunday lunches at the York and Albany and many wonderful meals and the Chef’s table at the fabulous Murano, Angela’s one star Michelin restaurant in Mayfair.
I was keen to try Cafe Murano, the prêt-à-porter version that opened recently in Covent Garden. I have not been overwhelmed by its St James’ sibling so I went in with modest expectations.
My first visit was with girlfriends soon after it opened in the summer. I was impressed by the food and the service and it turned out to be the perfect venue for a recent family lunch to celebrate my mother’s birthday.
The décor is warm and welcoming and this reflects the friendly reception you get from the staff. The two sections of the dining room are broken up by an inviting marble topped bar opposite a tantalising display of cicchetti (small dishes). Both times I sat at the rear of the restaurant with its dark leather banquettes, wood panelling and oversized mirrors (perfect for the ten of us including three kids) It does have a feel of being on a well upholstered train or ocean liner but in a good way.
The food remains true to Angela’s trademark Northern Italian cooking. There is a wide variety of cicchetti and antipasti to choose from that are conducive to sharing. The attentive manager Ricardo Sequeira recommended that we try the broad bean and rosemary arancini (he said they are better than the delightful arancini at Murano but we will have to agree to disagree on that one!)
I particularly liked the Portland crab with scorched onions and crunchy pieces of apple and the octopus tinged with smoked paprika. A simple but elegant dish of mozzarella with lentils and basil worked really well and for a savoury bite try the Ortiz anchovies on garlicky ciabatta. Worth a special mention is the caponata with aubergine and olives – my gorgeous fifteen month old nephew devoured it and has been known to spit out anything that doesn’t take his fancy!
The first time I visited, my girlfriends and I shared a few of the pasta dishes. The agnolotti with guinea fowl was delicious. The kids tucked in heartily to the tagliatelle Bolognese and refused us a taste!
Kelly Willet the general manager makes sure that everything moves smoothly. She said that the restaurant has settled into a good rhythm and they are getting to know the varied Covent Garden clientele.
On to the secondi. I would go back to eat the rabbit leg flavoured with fennel, chilli and Pecorino. The meat fell off the bone. I would also recommend the braised lamb that was swimming in a broth of Tuscan beans enhanced by a combination of rosemary, parsley and thyme. If you are in search of comfort, the tender (and generously sized) polpette will do the trick.
I went down to the kitchen and met the charming head chef Richard Lloyd. He said that he wants to prepare food that is simple, clean and fresh – and he has certainly achieved this. We chatted about where we like to eat in London and Richard showed me the trays of freshly made pasta that is the signature of the Hartnett family.
I recommend Cafe Murano for seasonal Italian food that is pleasing to the palate and kind on the wallet. A great place to eat with friends or family, for a drink, antipasti or a meal. Do pop into the adjoining Pastificio which is a perfect place to stop for a coffee, drink or a snack and stock up on fresh pasta, sauces and other delicacies to savour at home.
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Nuzy Sayani is Catwalkschoolgates’ restaurant reviewer. Nuzy lives in Marylebone with her husband and seven year old son. She is a technology lawyer and loves the theatre, cinema, is an avid reader and likes nothing more than trying out restaurants. Nuzy will be sharing her dining experiences with us and would love to hear from you with your recommendations.