Murano glass ceiling at the Bellagio in Vegas. I don't have any pics of the actual restaurant. oops.
One of my fondest “foodie” memories goes back to the days as a child, where I was sat in a neighbourhood Italian restaurant in Frankfurt, watching the incredibly capable pizzaiolo's slave away in front of a large open wood fired clay oven. As a seven year old, I was transfixed, watching them weave magic from dough and produce the finest pizzas I ever remember eating. Watching my father devour his spaghetti vongole and my mother coo over her scaloppine a la Milanese, my love of Italian food was born.
In my vain attempt at trying to replicate that feeling of happiness and content, I have begun searching out many of what are considered the “finer” Italian restaurants in London. These have taken in L’Anima, Theo Randall and Bocca di Lupo to name a few, some good, some bad, but none quite evoking the same memories (although Bocca came close). Murano, run by Angela Hartnett (of Welsh-Italian heritage), was next on the hit list and I expected great things from a restaurant wrestled off Gordon Ramsay.
As tempted as I was to indulge in the a la carte, or even the tasting options, wallet restricted me to the much more reasonably priced set lunch menu (a snip at £30). Whilst we perused the choices, a wooden board of charcuterie staved off the hunger pangs. The accompany bread basket was filled with a few delights including a superb focaccia (a good standard bearer for any Italian restaurant), and an amuse of arancini balls were also excellent.
My starter of wood pigeon and coca beans was intriguing but tasty. I can’t say I had ever eaten coca beans but the smoky flavour sat well alongside my generous breasts of wood pigeon. The cubes of pancetta and parsnip puree added saltiness and sweetness and the whole was pretty good, although would have benefited from a few less beans.
My main of venison with parsnip and winter veg, was in a nutshell, pretty damn sexy. The tender slices of loin were cooked perfectly, with a caramelised nugget of meat on the side, absolutely bursting with flavour, and the veg was, well, veg. But very well cooked veg at that.
The meal was going rather swimmingly. Mains had been polished off and everyone seemed pleased (this may have been due to the wine and glass of champagne we had to start, I’m not ruling this out). For me, the real party pleaser came in the form of the palate cleanser, a symphony of mini ice creams and sorbets placed on a frozen glass stand. Each one burst with flavour and even if some didn’t exactly hit the spot (basil, I’m, looking at you), it was a nice way to lead us into the desserts.
Even though my two companions both opted for the cheese cart, where they were adorned with pretty much as much cheese as they desired from a vast selection, my sweet tooth prevailed and I opted for the lemon cream and foam, with a hazelnut dacquoise and mint. I think the best way to describe this would be a citrus explosion, with the lemon cream smooth and tart, and the foam slightly sweet. The slices of grapefruit added a slightly sour juice explosion where all the flavours just mingled in your mouth. I’m not sure how there was a “dacquoise” involved, but the nuggets of biscuit added a nice change in gear of texture.
So in summation, I had a pretty damn enjoyable time. Everything we had eaten was expertly cooked, and care and consideration had been taken when considering balancing flavours and textures without being overly complicated. The service was perfect, without being too obtrusive and were always there to answer a question, take a wine order or pick up your napkin, all the travails you may actually encounter within a restaurant. I hadn’t felt like I had missed out by being restricted to the lunch menu, but peering over the fence into the garden of the tasting menu revealed a myriad of other delights. I will be back in 2011, and next time, my wallet will be prepared.
Murano - 20 Queen Street W1J 5PP