THINK of fine dining, and France springs to mind. Conjure up a cheery evening out, and Italy pops the corks. But what happens when Italian food gets the Michelin Star treatment?
Murano is one answer. Its chef patron is Angela Hartnett, a protégée of Gordon Ramsay who went on to win Michelin Stars and an MBE, in the process becoming one of the best-known female chefs on the planet. Hartnett bought out Ramsay’s share in the Mayfair restaurant just over a year ago, and has carved a niche by imbuing her fine dining with distinctly Italian elements.
“I constantly find myself being drawn towards that big boot shape in the Mediterranean,” she writes in her first cookbook, ‘Cucina’. Hartnett learnt the basics from her Italian grandmother, and continues to thread three generations of family cooking through her menus today.
Those tastes and textures are evident from the moment we arrive. As we browse the lunch menu, a small bowl of big olives beams up at us with the colour of fresh limes. They are moist, lightly salted, fruity to the bite, and deliver a beautifully buttery aftertaste.
Next, the canapés: parmesan tuiles in a little silver skillet, glistening arancini (rice balls) bursting with mushroom and truffle, a tray of fresh foccacia and sourdough breads, and a waxy selection of cured meats, swirling in clumps of ruby-red lean and creamy fat.
Two little ramekins of Sicilian olive oil offer a haiku on the importance of great ingredients. Herbaceous, light, softly smoky — the oil actually tastes like the colour green.
All of this, and we haven’t even come to the starters! This is why lunch is the new dinner at Michelin Star restaurants. Paying £30/€35 for three courses, L and I get exactly the same treatment as the couple enjoying £85/€99 tasting menus next to us — the same pre-desserts, petit-fours, and poised and affable service from a team utterly comfortable in their space.
That space, incidentally, is warmer than the photographs suggest. Circular tables play off the straight lines and geometrical flourishes of an Art Deco fit, fabrics are sage green and sandy tones, there’s an abundance of mirrors, splashes of marble, and the kind of bejewelled light fittings you could imagine working equally well as headpieces in a 1920s cabaret.
Towards the rear of the room, a raised section allows diners a clear view into the kitchen via a large rectangular window. It’s a simple take on the chef’s table. Amidst all of this, we found the atmosphere upbeat and unpretentious — with no shortage of laughter.
Having splashed out getting to London in the first place, we skipped the tasting and à la carte options (three courses for £65/€76) in favour of the set lunch. To start, L had a superbly succulent salmon ceviche, served with fennel shavings, pine nuts, crème fraîche and baby coriander shoots — a sprightly melody of textures chiming with the citrus marinade.
I went for a pumpkin velouté, a thick orange soup scattered with chestnut shavings, a drizzle of oil, and a knob of truffle butter. It looked and tasted like autumn in a bowl. Next up was a delicate yet meaty fillet of plaice for L, balanced on a bed of crushed potatoes and chive olives, and a nest of hand-rolled tagliatelle with pork ragú for me. My pasta was fresh and eggy; its spicy sauce made mischievous courtesy of some sharp little radicchio leaves.
A glass of Sangiovese from Branchini matched the dish perfectly — a good recommendation from the sommelier and, at £11/€13, my only alcoholic indulgence of the afternoon.
Despite the high production value, Murano never felt stuffy. Staff bring a little hint of that Italian bonhomie to a room some have found a little clinical.
Expect your dishes to be described, domes to be whisked theatrically from your plates, crumbs to be brushed from the table.
By the time desserts arrived — a chocolate mousse with honeycomb and fromage frais, and a peanut parfait with a bitter chocolate sorbet — we were royally stuffed.
That big boot shape in the Med deserves more of this Michelin magic.
Two three-course lunches, including one glass of wine and one glass of Prosecco, came to £93.43/€109, including a 12.5% service charge.