Opened in 2013, Café Murano in St James’s is a marble and dark leather affair. This new Covent Garden branch is a more relaxed version, and well suited to the bustle of the ‘Opera Quarter’.
Downstairs brims with lively post-work/pre-theatre conversation; upstairs is airy and calm, offering more opportunities to interact with the friendly, professional staff. This is chef Angela Hartnett’s second spin-off of her Michelin-starred Murano in Mayfair.
Hartnett’s style of Italian cooking wins hearts for its big flavours and minds for its just-so technique. In her kitchen, peasant classics such as braised lamb shoulder with Tuscan beans and celery reach delicious new heights: the tenderness of the meat a testament to slow-cooking mastery.
There are plenty of winning dishes on the menu here, ranging from small cicchetti to large secondi, and prices allowing for a modest meal or an indulgent feast. Broad bean and rosemary arancini are basically little parmesan bombs, while the melt-in-the-mouth veal tartare – rightly the pride of the house – is lightly dressed in a delicate tuna sauce with caper berries.
Some other suggestions: firmly textured caponata with aubergine and green olives; delicate, fresh tagliatelle Bolognese with minced lamb and veal; or push the boat
out with an intensely tender rabbit leg, summer onions, chilli and pecorino (more of that slow cooking). The wine list has picks from small Italian producers starting at £22, with 500ml carafes for £13. House-made plum negronis make for robust palate awakeners. Note that from 3-5pm Monday through Saturday, the selection of dishes is somewhat smaller than at lunch and dinner.
The kitchen service is a bit on the slow side, but it’s nice to be somewhere that doesn’t have a quick-turnover feel. Café Murano is a reminder of how satisfying ingredient-led Mediterranean cooking can be – and with Bella Italia and Strada just across the road, it’s also a glaring message that the bar on Italian food in Covent Garden has been significantly raised.