Murano’s ‘little sister’, with its all-day menu and simple, rustic dishes, is a welcome addition to the family, discovers Neil Gerrard
If you were to trundle down London’s well-heeled St James’s Street looking for a café, then Angela Hartnett’s latest venture, Cafe Murano, probably wouldn’t jump out at you as an obvious example of the genre.
The name was chosen for a good reason – this is the ‘little sister’ to Hartnett’s original Murano, which sits nearby, and is intended to be a restaurant you could conceivably visit every day.
It is several cuts above the average Costa, however. The address alone gives that away – 33 St James’s Street used to house Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus, where Hartnett once worked under Marcus Wareing. Then there are the 75-cover restaurant’s Russell Sage-designed interiors.
While Hartnett has overall control of the restaurant, and is to be found there at least two to three times a week, head chef Sam Williams is in charge of the day-to-day operations.
Williams, who trained in foodservice management in South Africa, and general manager Zoe Charlton-Brown, are both formerly of Smart Hospitality, where Hartnett is creative director and non-executive director.
The two chefs met while Williams was lead chef for Smart’s catering at the Olympic Hospitality Centre in 2012. She took a junior management role at Murano before Cafe Murano’s opening.
Both restaurants may share the same culture, use many of the same suppliers and keep in close contact thanks to an internal phone system, but there are significant differences.
The turnover of customers at Cafe Murano, at around 100-120 per service, is almost double that of Murano’s. “We are a lot simpler in terms of how we plate things,” explains Williams. “In terms of presentation, if you look at a dish in Murano, it will probably have eight or nine components, whereas on something like our menu du jour, where people spend something like £20 on a two-course meal, we will do three elements – so, for example, there will be a starch, a sauce and a protein.”
That may rise to four to five elements for the à la carte menu, but the overall aim is still to keep dishes simple and rustic.
Best-sellers include the truffle arancini (£3) from the cicheti menu, as well as the osso buco with risotto Milanese (£11.50/ £16.50), which Williams expects will eventually become one of the restaurant’s signature dishes.
Meanwhile, Cafe Murano has already gained a reputation for its pasta since its opening in November 2013, with dishes such as wild boar fettuccine (£9.50) or Swiss chard, spinach and ricotta tortelli (£8/£12). Unfortunately, wild boar is not always readily available, so the restaurant is buying in venison and will call the dish a game ragoût, specifying which meat is used on a specific day.
While the restaurant itself may have been completely revamped, the kitchen is still largely the original from the days of Pétrus.
“We are still using the old Charvet stoves which were here when Angela worked at Pétrus,” says Williams. ” A lot of the equipment we have just salvaged and upgraded and made it work for us. It is a little bit nostalgic working on something that Angela and Marcus have worked on – there is a lot of history in these walls – and we don’t take that lightly.”
The plan is to upgrade some other aspects of the kitchen, but for the time being there have been some challenges to overcome. For example, the restaurant has started to braise the octopus in the warm octopus, chickpeas and pesto starter (£9.50) because it lacks a water bath.
“We bring it up to the boil in a fish stock, cover it with a cartouche and then braise it in the oven. When we did it in the waterbath [at Murano], as you took it out of its bag, the skin came off and you ended up with white flesh and not the sexy colour of the octopus,” says Williams. So successful is this technique, that Murano now uses it too.
Williams and Hartnett will continue to work on the menu together, evolving it as the seasons change. “I always look to her because the level of support she gives is just phenomenal,” Williams says. “For someone of her level of skill, it is heart-warming for all of us to have that support.”
33 St James’s Street, London SW1 1HD
020 3371 5559
SAMPLE DISHES FROM THE MENU
Whitebait & pollock fritti £7.50
Mozzarella, charred aubergine £6.50
Rabbit & green olive pappardelle £9.50/£14
Mussel, tomato, garlic & chilli linguini £9.50/£14
Cod, castelfiorito lentils, salsa verde £18
Rump of lamb, coco beans, pancetta, celery, salsa verde £18.50
Panna cotta, orange £5.50