Friday, August 22, 2008

Murano - the first review??

Lighting at Murano
I had hoped to be a bit quicker off the mark and make this post the first review published of Angela Hartnett's new restaurant Murano which opened in the heart of Mayfair last night. Unfortunately a 3-hour, 12-course meal finishing well past 1am will fell even the mightiest of us, and so it was a little late before I managed to drag my head off the pillow this morn.

Angela Hartnett is, as everyone surely knows, protege to Gordon Ramsey, but to refer to this as a Ramsey restaurant is to dismiss the fact that Murano is very much Angela's venture, not his. She was everywhere to be seen in the restaurant and kitchen throughout the evening, and when some vulgar punter described the restaurant as 'Gordon Ramsey's new place' she pealed with laughter before pointing out that Gordon was currently on a tropical holiday - "bless him".

In terms of the restaurant itself it is incredibly different to the rest of the Ramsey Group's venues, being both extremely small (just twelve 4-seater tables + a 'chef's table') and also extremely well lit - or at least it was when the lights were working - on our arrival we were told by the charming female maƮtre'd that there was a "little problem" with the lights - which came as a surprise to us as even with only the little side lamps on the restaurant was still better lit than Claridges, Petrus or Maze.

Murano Menu It was nice to see a few familiar faces amongst the staff - not just the restaurant manager Jose Garcia, who many will recognise from his recent stint on the F-Word, but several of the waiters have come from the other Ramsey restaurants so although there were obviously relative newbies amongst the team, there were very few of the hiccups in service which tend to characterise the early days of a new restaurant when the staff are still learning to dance their waiting dance together. That said, I've never waited so long to be given a menu, and the little hiccup with four waiters descending on us to raise just 3 cloches raised a few mental eyebrows, but I'm splitting hairs here as really, the staff were what made the whole experience - they were without fail charming, enthusiastic and fun-spirited. They were also all, including the chefs, young - I'd put the average age of the staff at something under 30 - very unusual in the high-end restaurants of London's wealthiest district.

As for the food, well. High standards are to be expected here so expect some nit-picking on my part, but really the meal was fabulous. There is only a hint more of Italiana to the menu compared to any of the other Ramsey restaurants, but then you hardly expect a restaurant clearly gunning for a Michelin star to be serving pasta al forno and pizza Margarita, do you? A selection of menus to choose from - tasting, a la carte, vegetarian and a set lunch menu mean you could easily eat here five days a week without getting bored, although it's possible you'd tire of the chef's obvious fondness for serving extremely bitter accompaniments with sweeter main ingredients - they crop up a lot, not always successfully.

Various Breads

Pata Negra
Appetisers of deep-fried mushroom risotto balls were spot-on, beautifully crisp and 100% free of grease, which is probably a first for me in a restaurant of any caliber. The flavour was incredibly subtle but well seasoned - just right for piquing the appetite before attacking the substantial tasting menu. Our first course of grilled Foie Gras took a loooong time to arrive (one of the waiters was sent over by the chef to apologise for the wait) but we didn't mind too much, as we were served with a handsome basket of fresh breads - tomato & basil foccacia, ciabatta, and paper-thin crisp-breads with a board of outrageously tender and delicious Pata Negra (yes I know, Spanish ham in an Italian restaurant? I wasn't quibbling though - it was tastier than the best ever Parma ham).

Foie Gras with Sweet & Sour Tomatoes When the Foie finally arrived it was worth every second of the wait, being beautifully caramelised on the outside, meltingly tender within and served with sharp and delicious 'sweet and sour' tomatoes.

Truffle Risotto
Our second fungi rice dish followed - a few generous spoonfuls of risotto covered in wafer-thin shavings of truffle which dissolved into each mouthful with a waft of savouriness. Not a particular fan of truffles usually, I nonetheless could have eaten a mountain of this. Next came a decidedly obscene-looking dish of oven-roasted San Marzano tomatoes (the ones usually found in cans!), served with small globules of the mozzarella-derived burrata Campana.

Oven-baked San Marzano Tomatoes with burratta Campana I've chosen a picture that does not look too rude - this is a public blog after all - but trust me, the tomatoes were distinctly reminiscent of a certain item of men's anatomy. Well it made us smile anyway. San Marzano tomatoes are renowned for being pretty shoddy as raw edibles, but they really come into their own in the canning process, which is why they are so ubiquitous on supermarket shelves. They work similarly well once roasted, so it seems, and were juicy and delicious - but also so sharp I developed a tongue ulcer after eating a couple!

Bean & Apple Salad with Cider Vinaigrette I was initially unimpressed by our salad of green beans & apple with cider vinaigrette, as it tasted primarily of the 'squeak' of a raw bean on polished teeth, but after a few forkfuls this turned out to be simply a matter of the salad not having been tossed properly - with the vinaigrette properly mixed through the dish was superb, and an excellent palate cleanser before the big hunks of meat to follow.
Fillet of Veal with Parmesan Cream For the main course there was a choice of roasted fillet of veal or rack of welsh lamb. There being three of us we had two veal and one lamb, and the veal won hands-down, being beautifully seared but juicily pink and tender. The Parmesan cream which accompanied it was quite simply the best sauce I've ever had with meat - packed full of the savoury taste 'umami' and wickedly rich to boot. The lamb was delicately cooked and lovely too, but it was served with a dollop of something unidentifiable, sludgy brown, and smokey in flavour which completely overpowered the delicate taste of the young sheep.

Strawberries with White Balsamic Jelly & Marscapone Sorbet
Being, by this time, very nearly the last people in the restaurant (and it being well past midnight), we were obliged to skip the optional cheese course, which I was rather miffed about as the cheese trolley had been sitting next to us all evening and had been calling to me with its pervasive aromas. They had also run out of the vanilla parfait with chocolate custard and roasted white peaches which was supposed to be our dessert, but as compensation we were offered free rein on the full-size dessert menu, allowing me to sample a dish I'd had my eye on from the beginning - strawberries served with white balsamic jelly, marscarpone sorbet and little brittle chunks of meringue. Spectacularly enough, this was served with a glass of dry ice in the middle of the plate - hot grappa was poured on top to create an amazing volcano of clouds wafting across the table, and the eruption created the sauce which then mingled with the juice of the strawberries on the plate.

Ice-creams & Sorbets
Prior to our strawberry interlude there was a course of house icecreams and sorbets - a selection of 8 tiny scoops for the three of us to share. Basil sorbet was the big winner - an astonishing explosion of herbaceous flavours which jolted your tastebuds like 10,100 volts. Also outstanding were the mango and the black cherry, both absolutely bursting with concentrated fruit. There was something for everything, in addition to those I've already mentioned the flavours were blood orange, pear, chocolate & black olive, banana and strawberry. My feeling was that the sorbets were best by a country mile, but the ice-creams were creamy and unctuous too.

Stomachs groaning, we asked for the bill, only to be presented with one last dish - a glass of delicately lemony tiramisu, topped with an espresso-strength coffee granita. To accompany this we had a range of tuile biscuits ranging from the sweet (chocolate & nuts), to the savoury (beetroot and salt), and some beautiful homemade truffles and liqueur chocolates. A quick tour round the kitchens and a chat with an astonishingly-relaxed looking Angela rounded off the evening perfectly. Murano may have a few tweaks left to do (automatically flushing toilets were commented on by almost every table - due to their habit of going off five times before one had even sat down), and some minor adjustments may be necessary in the kitchen before I declare it my favourite menu, but for atmosphere, service and experience this new venue is quite definitely the jewel in Ramsey's crown, and I will be back - soon.

1 comment:

mooninthegutter said...

Sounds yummy.