Annie and I had been talking about trying out the Covent Garden branch of Angela’s Hartnett’s Cafe Murano for some time. And it was my friend who booked it for us last night, having been there recently with her husband and thinking I’d like it too.
It’s an amazing 5 years since we went to the Mayfair branch (click here) and I guess I hadn’t quite got over my slight disappointment, hence the slow road to the Covent Garden branch (which is actually a lot more convenient for me). I arrived first and was shown to a bar area where I could sit on a stool and look at the menu. I was asked if I wanted to order a drink but said I’d wait until we’d sat down.
When Annie arrived we were shown to our table in the dining area at the back. It was attractive with a nice ambience (though it did get very noisy later and it became slightly difficult talking). We decided to go for the set menu – ‘Menu del Giorno – Veneto’ – served 12.00-7.00pm every day and then from 9.30-11pm, at 2 courses for £19; 3 courses for £23. There was a choice of 3 dishes for each course: Antipasti, Secondi and Dolce. We also ordered a glass of the house white wine each at £8 for 175ml (500ml was £23; a bottle was £34).
Annie has to be a bit careful about some things she eats and the waitress was really good and nice about answering her questions and offering to make adjustments. We were really impressed by this and the overall attentive and friendly service, though we did feel it got slightly harassed by the end when they were really busy.
Annie chose a starter of ‘Grilled aubergine, basil & almond’.
She said it was very nice though was slightly taken aback at first taste as it was very spicy, which hadn’t been indicated on the menu.
I chose ‘Salt cod bruschetta’ – because it’s one of my favourite Italian things. The menu was ‘Veneto’ based (maybe they change the region periodically?) and this bruschetta is very typical of the city’s food.
There were two good-sized bruschette with a nice mantecato (creamed salt cod) topping, which always makes me think of eating cicchetti by the Grand Canal in Venice. I enjoyed it a lot.
Annie’s main was ‘Chicken, lardo & sage’. It came with a lot of tomato sauce. Annie said it was very good; the chicken was excellent – tender and flavourful.
There was a risotto choice but as it was pretty much what I’d cooked the night before (peas & parmesan), I opted for pasta: ‘Bigoli, anchovy & onion’.
Bigoli is a very thick, hollow spaghetti-like pasta. I was keen to try the pasta as it’s a speciality here – not surprising in an Italian restaurant, but there’s a pastaficio attached, ‘a modern pasta factory’ is their description. They make their own pasta, which is used in the restaurant, and the pastaficio is also a shop selling their pasta, pasta sauces and other foods used in the restaurant. You can shop there or stop by for just a drink or simple snack.
The pasta dish was good, though not ‘wow’ good. The waitress asked if I wanted Parmesan at the same time pointing out the dish contained anchovies. Yes I know Italians don’t use Parmesan or any other cheese with their fish dishes … but I wasn’t sure salted anchovies in the sauce really counted and I wanted a bit of Parmesan over my pasta and enjoyed it.
Unusually, Annie and I both fancied a dessert. There was a cheese option with hazelnut bread, Italian doughnut with chocolate sauce, or, as we both chose, Tiramisu Ice Cream.
I have to say when it was put before me I wasn’t terribly impressed. One, it looked rather in its sad one-boule state, like the kind of ‘dessert’ offered to my 4-year-old grandson when I take him out for a ‘kids’ menu’ meal; secondly, it wasn’t what I was expecting in looks. I’ve had tiramisu ice cream before and it usually reflects the layers of the famous dessert, whereas this was all mixed together. It tasted of tiramisu but was no more than OK; quite a heavy gelato. We have such excellent gelato in London now (and I was just back from eating amazing gelato in Turin!) that I felt it could have been a little more exciting. I think it was an example of the slightly less generous ‘set menu’ portions.
The bill, with service, came to £38 each, which was reasonable for 3 courses in a smart cafe-restaurant in central London. It had been a little like the Mayfair experience – in the main very good, but just a tinge of disappointment. I think that’s because when a restaurant carries such a famous chef name you expect it to be perfect, even the ‘cheap’ early evening set menu. Perhaps that’s unfair, but I think when you try out a cheaper menu in a smart place it should please and impress you so much you want to go back for the à la carte next time!