After a long time in planning, Angela Hartnett finally opened her much-anticipated Mayfair restaurant, Murano, in August. Joanna Wood finds a chef on form
Her boss, a certain Gordon Ramsay, may have been having his media ups-and-downs recently, but for Angela Hartnett it has been a very different end to 2008. The opening of her new fine-dining restaurant, Murano, in London's Mayfair last August (for Gordon Ramsay Holdings) has proved a resounding hit. The Times's Giles Coren, for instance, declared, the restaurant's fish dishes as "awesome." (The Times Magazine, 20 September).
"I couldn't have asked for more," agrees Hartnett.
It's not just the critics who have been bowled over. Diners are voting by booking up two months in advance to eat in the evening at the 60-seat Murano, lit by the stylish Italian chandeliers made of the Venetian glass for which the restaurant is named.
Up for orders on the tasting, à la carte or lunch menus (respectively £70 for seven courses, £55 for three courses, and £25 for three courses) are Hartnett's trademark Italian-leaning food which earned her a Michelin star when she was at the capital's Connaught hotel. Dishes such as her version of the Italian classic vitello tonnato - lovely, paper-thin roasted veal in a tuna sauce to which she has added a crunch of crisp anchovy.
Another winner is a beautifully soft, wonderfully balanced pumpkin tortelli which comes with an aromatic herb punch in a sage emulsion and some crushed amaretti for a bit of texture. As with all the dishes at Murano, the key to its success is pitch-perfect balance. It is sophisticated, yet seemingly uncomplicated, seasonal comfort food.
Since opening at the height of summer, Hartnett and her head chef, Diego Cardoso, have tweaked the menus to reflect autumnal produce (white truffles, end-of-year-pumpkins, quinces in place of summer apricots, for instance) and the aim is to continue in a similar vein throughout the early part of 2009. "I'm looking forward to spring," she admits, though, when the influx of fresh spring veg will inspire more wholesale menu change.
In the meantime, she's pleased that dishes are selling across the board on the à la carte, a vindication of clever menu balancing and knowledge of her market. Having said that, over the past few weeks roasted turbot and pheasant agnolotti have both proved winners with diners: the former, a flavoursome "meaty" bite of fish served with earthy wild mushroom duxelle and a cèpe velouté, the latter highlighted with a creamy white onion purée, truffle and a welcome cut-through of rosemary.
Murano's puds are, like the rest of the menu, Franco-Italian in cuisine style and provide a wonderfully comforting end to a meal. Chocolate, bananas, warm soufflés are all given a chance to shine in deceptively simple offerings. A light, moist quince soufflé, like an apricot predecessor on the opening menu, is probably the pick of the crop with a scoop of fromage frais sorbet popped in to its heart to provide a temperature contrast before melting and merging with its quivering host.
In as elegant a restaurant as Murano there are, of course, amuse-bouches and pre-desserts sent out to liven up diners' taste-buds during the course of a meal. Morsels of refreshing sorbets or little balls of piping hot, crunchy arancini at the start of the meal, for instance and a plate of antipasti - parma ham, salami, grissini, sometimes deep-fried prawns, or smoked aubergine, crispy pane carasau. Like the mains, they are tweaked from time to time and January will probably see some version of bacalhau (salted cod) nibbles.
Whatever she replaces on the menu, it's clear that Hartnett is in touch with what her customers want to eat. Don't take my word for it - just consider the average spend per head of £110 that Murano is pulling in at the moment. And with cooking as skilful as that on display at Murano, don't be surprised if the restaurant nets a Michelin star (or two) this month.
Murano, 20-21 Queen Street, London W1. 020 7592 1222http://www.gordonramsay.com" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">www.gordonramsay.com
What's on the menu
â- Mi-cuit foie gras, blackberry glaze and pickled apples
â- Carnaroli risotto, gorgonzola and apple, fresh walnuts
â- Gressingham duck breast, confit leg, Savoy cabbage, mustard fruits and potato cake
â- Red leg of partridge, honey-roasted pumpkin, chestnuts and bacon
â- Braised halibut, parsnip purée, oxtail, salsify and red wine reduction
â- Chocolate and chestnut semifreddo, popcorn ice-cream, dulce de leche
â- Warm zabaglione, figs infused in red wine
- â- Vanilla parfait, caramelised baby bananas, passion fruit granité