When I visited: February and September 2015
Location: London, St James’ and Covent Garden
Team: Angela Hartnett (Chef Patron), Sam Williams (Head Chef at St James’), Kelly Willett (General Manager at St James’), Massimo Alonzo (Head Sommelier at St James’)
Rating in the Michelin Guide: Recommended
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress
Ambience: St James’: Smart/casual, fairly big; Covent Garden: a bit frantic and cramped
Course of the meal: Pumpkin tortellini
If I could change one thing: Better service in the Covent Garden branch
St James’ branch:
When I visited the St James’ branch, I thought this was a great place if you want a family meal, or a high-quality but good-value meal with friends, and you are fans of Italian food. Cafe Murano is the sister restaurant of Angela Hartnett’s Murano. The St James’ branch dealt with extensive dietary requirements of this Owl’s ancestors very well and their truffle arancini snacks are both more-ish and unforgettable. My conclusion was that this restaurant was worth regular visits and was a very welcome addition to the London scene. Unfortunately, my overall impression of Cafe Murano was significantly deflated by a later visit to the Covent Garden branch, which recently made it into the 2016 Michelin Guide.
Covent Garden branch:
As soon as I entered the Covent Garden branch with my partner Owl, our impression was less than favourable. We were left alone without any menus or water for way too long, and overheard other tables complaining about their bill being wrong and having run out of time to get tea and coffee due to the slow service. Unfortunately, we continued to have service issues throughout the meal. During our starters, we were asked if we wanted bread and said yes but this never came. Another table near to us asked for water and were ignored for ages. Other tables had to flag staff down and sent a glass back as it was dirty, and they spilt water on our table which is obviously not an issue in itself but then they didn’t bother to clean it up. I also thought that the Covent Garden branch is poorly designed compared to the St James’ branch as if you are sitting near the door, it is pretty narrow and people are constantly coming in and out and walking behind you, which is unsettling compared to the relaxing atmosphere of the other branch.
The food itself was good if not amazing. For starters we had crab and onions, and mozzarella, figs and rocket. The main was the best dish in my opinion, a delicious pumpkin tortellini, although the portion sizes were too large whether you selected a ‘small’ or ‘large’ option. The desserts were nice but nothing special – a Muscovado tart was just sweet without much flavour and the chocolate mousse with amaretti and hazelnuts was wonderfully light but beneath the layer of hazelnuts, just a bit sweet. The fact that you can order carafes is good though, and our carafe of red Chianti was pretty good and went well with all the food.
It’s a great shame that the service in the Covent Garden branch is letting down the reputation of the Murano restaurants as a whole, as the food is still promising and the St James’ branch is worth a visit.