With the opening of Café Murano, proprietor Angela Hartnett has come full circle. It’s on this site, at 33 St James’s Street, that Hartnett honed her craft with Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay when it was still called Pétrus. She has now returned with her fellow sous chef Samantha (Sam) Williams in the role of head chef.
The decor, by the reliable designer Russell Sage, is warm brasserie, with a marble-topped bar bearing some of the 100-stong Italian wine list. The menu’s in equally reliable territory with Italian food drawn from the northern regions – so plenty of hearty pastas, red meat and fowl, truffles and funghi. But the first thing to catch our eye is a little board of battered whitebait, john dory and halibut which turn out to be as light and delicate as they look. A roasted grey mullet adds to the variety.
It’s deceptively simple food, but as the cuisine spans the coastal regions of Liguria and the Veneto and the plains and mountains of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy, Williams comes unstuck with some of it; charred squash, gorgonzola and walnuts was unbalanced, and a wild boar fettuccine was overly dry. Better was a rich, autumnal dish of guinea fowl with polenta and chestnuts, and a perfect bagna cauda served with a spiky globe artichoke. Williams has a way to go before she reaches the standards of her mentor – let alone Hartnett's one-time mentor. But with a cuisine that’s a surefire winner when done authentically, the odds are on her side.