Tuesday, 22 July 2014
Though I try to write about as wide a variety of restaurants on these pages as I can manage, the unfortunate fact is that, as much as a side effect of PRs doing their job properly as this particular blogger's geeky fondness for the latest and greatest, posts do tend to lean towards newer restaurants. This is inevitable, and not always undesirable - after all, it's probably more useful for people to read a review of a restaurant they've not yet been to than one they already have - but it does mean that I have a short but significant list of very big names that have been around for years that I just have never got around to visiting.
Some of the gaps in my restaurant knowledge border on embarrassing. Perhaps the biggest red mark is Le Gavroche, Mayfair institution and one of the most influential kitchens in London, who have trained and nurtured some of the biggest names in classical French cooking in this country and continues, by all accounts (though obviously not mine, yet) to be a super place to have dinner. And what about Petrus, a commendably long-standing Gordon Ramsay operation about which very few people have a bad word to say, if they have anything to say at all.
One of many Ramsay protégés who stepped out on her own a few years ago and now has her name attached to an enviable collection of restaurants is Angela Hartnett. There's trendy Shoreditch bistro Merchants Tavern getting all the press and the youthful beardy crowd, there's a informal-but-still-quite-posh Harnett Holder & Co at the Lime Wood hotel out in the New Forest, which gathered a good number of positive blog posts when it opened last year. But when was the last time you read a report of her Mayfair flagship, opened six years ago and still going strong, Murano? So here's one.
What do you need to know about Murano? Well, firstly and perhaps most significantly it's in Mayfair and is therefore Not Cheap. Yes, there is a two course weekday lunch for £25 which looked pretty good, but prices for the menu proper start at £50 for two courses from the A La Carte and go all the way up to £85 for a five-course short tasting menu; these are prices with a significant weight of expectation behind them, even for this glitzy part of town.
By and large, though, expectations are fulfilled. Antipasti of (I think) some kind of speck was moist, salty and delicately sliced, and house breads were all fresh and warm paired with lovely grassy olive oil. These are the basics, really, for smart Italian restaurants and you'd expect anywhere charging these prices to have at least a decent bash at them, but it's still nice when it's all done so well.
Lamb breast, sweetbreads, ricotta and peas is always going to be a crowd-pleaser, too, a pile of impossibly light and fluffy ricotta paired with slow-cooked lamb and some of those glossy, cooked-but-firm dressed peas that probably took some poor bastard ages to get right.
A lot of work had clearly gone into the other starter, a meticulously butchered rabbit that came in the form of a boned leg (I think), loin and little pancake-wrap things full of all sorts of other bits. Game chips added crunch, mustard added depth, and some mushrooms and a cheffy rabbit stock reduction added a glossy finish. This is exactly the kind of dish I want to see when I come somewhere like this, you really feel like it has taken someone a lot of time and effort to produce, and is worth the outlay.
Risotto, well, I'm not the world's biggest risotto fan but I can tell you my friend enjoyed it so there you go. Never really got the point of risotto; if you're running a marathon then I'm sure all those carbs are very useful, I just don't see why I'm expected to enjoy any more than a spoonful of savoury rice pudding in any other situation.
I love the things that high-end restaurants can do to chicken. Unlike many other people, I've never really fallen out of love with this most basic of birds; true, given the unspeakable horrors committed in its name in any number of high street fried chicken joints it's understandable many people instinctively steer clear of it, but handled properly it is still an incredibly rewarding beastie. Here, expertly tender breasts with golden crispy skin were arranged amongst earthy morels, soft-boiled breaded quails eggs, white asparagus, little blobs of (I think) chestnut purée, shaved parmesan and all came dressed in another one of those exquisitely silky reduced glazes. Accurate, confident cooking.
Desserts were colourful, summery, and fun. I know that much. Unfortunately I've largely forgotten what exactly they were, but one was some kind of strawberry and white chocolate mousse, I think, and the other one probably involved basil sorbet and apricot. Is it too much of an unfair generalisation to say that desserts are often a bit of an afterthought in high-end Italian restaurants? Yes? Alright, I won't say that, then.
But there you have it, an experience from start to finish almost impossible not to enjoy, from the supremely capable staff to the confident food, dishes of Italian influence using the best of British produce in clear and approachable ways. And given its location, and the clientele I spotted of a weekday lunchtime (over fifties in suits, of both sexes) it could hardly be blamed for doing anything else; this is, after all, a Mayfair restaurant for Mayfair, making a very good living for itself thank you very much.
So it's not Murano's fault I know about Artusi, or Trullo, or Zucca, and they're not to know I preferred my meal on Bellenden Road in Peckham with a bottle of £22 rosé and a plate of roast artichokes in bagna cauda. And I'm sure they couldn't care less that that meal cost fully a third of that price and was, in all honesty, just as impressive in as many ways. Murano doesn't have to care about any of those things, because there will always be people wanting the comfort and security of a nice deep tablecloth and a £45 bottle of Prosecco and don't mind paying for it. And in the end, there's really nothing wrong with that.
I was invited to review Murano