For someone who experiences the pedestrian equivalent of road rage, the new Cafe Murano represents a haven from the tourist choked streets of Covent Garden. This is the latest in Angela Hartnett’s family of restaurants: the twin of the original St James’s Cafe and the little sister of Michelin-starred Murano. Smooth leather booths, burnished copper lights and an abundance of dark wood lend Cafe Murano an air of elegance, yet it is not stuffy. This is a linen napkin, but not a linen tablecloth type of place.
Impatient diners like myself can start with cichetti, small snacks traditionally served in Venetian bàcari. Gone are the famed truffle arincini of the St James’s branch, but the broad bean and rosemary counterpart here were very good. Although they lacked any depth of flavour, few could fail to be comforted by the arincini’s crispy shell breaking through to a glutinous, gooey centre. No surprise, then, that I overheard the neighbouring table ordering second helpings.
Antipasti, served from an open deli bar downstairs, are another tempting pre-dinner treat. Perhaps there will be ricotta, preserved lemon and peas or Portland crab, scorched rosso lunga onions and apple. We shared grilled courgettes lightly dressed in olive oil and fresh parsley, and studded with sweet, creamy hazelnuts. Aside from the absence of advertised broad beans, it was a small, simple, perfectly formed plate.
Next, one can opt for a Primi of pasta or risotto followed by a meat-based Secondi or, as we did, a large Primi alone. We luxuriated in soft ribbons of fresh tagliatelle, tumbled with tender morsels of rich Bolognese and, at our behest, piled high with parmesan. Or take a nosedive into meltingly-soft gnocchi amidst a velvety, ribiola sauce whose delicate tang was the ideal foil for flecks of heady, aromatic lavendar and salty olive tapenade. Had it been deemed socially acceptable, we would have liked our plates clean – a testament both to the dishes’ subtle yet sophisticated flavouring and to their rather diminutive size.
At these prices, one would expect portions to be a little more filling. Puddings, however, were perfectly proportioned and, once again, perfectly flavoured. The deep caramel sweetness of a majestic muscovado tart was steadied by bitter cocoa pastry, before being lightened on the palate by the slight sourness of crème fraîche. And of course I couldn’t leave without a taste of tiramisu which, if done well, is a contender in the formidable fight for the title of my favourite desert. At Cafe Murano, the tiramisu is not merely well executed, it is ambrosial. A bed of sponge punching with coffee and alcohol, before being mellowed by a silky sheets of sweet cream.
The meal improved in both flavour and size as it progressed. But despite devouring three delicious courses, we still felt a little hungry. We returned home to eat toast.