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Sunday, 5 September 2010

Murano

The eagle-eyed among you will have discerned from a recent tweet that Mr. F and I took ourselves off to Murano, the restaurant over which Angela Hartnett presides, for supper on Monday evening last.  I should explain, lest the flippant way in which I tweeted suggests otherwise, that this was an extravagance which was a celebration of Mr. F's last weekend of freedom from employment.  Splashing out at a pricey restaurant may sound like a counter-intuitive way in which to mark the passage from eternal student to economically viable adult, but it was actually important in that it signified the end of the era in which such last- minute moments of unrestraint were logistically possible.  Basically, we've both got full-time jobs now innit?

So, off to Murano we trotted.  I was intrigued, having read a number of reviews which were complimentary of the food but scathing in respect of the decor and ambience.  The london-eating website also revealed that several past diners had thought the portions measly and the service desultory.  It was therefore with a mixture of hunger, anticipation and trepidation that we stepped through the door.

And what did we find there?  Well, firstly, an elegant dining room done out in what some people have described as Gordon Ramsey beige but which actually seemed to me to be closer to Farrow and Ball's Pavilion Grey (look, we recently did up our flat, OK?).  There are Art Deco touches and a pleasingly curvy mural along one wall.  The grown-up colour scheme and mirrored surfaces were nicely offset by small posies of orange roses on the tables. 

We ordered apperitifs and wolfed down the delicious greaseless arancini, tiny little balls of a mushroom risotto.  Mr. F and I had decided prior to arrival that we were probably going to have to have the tasting menu, which is £75 (plus extra for cheese) for seven courses.  A brief perusal of the menu confirmed this.  I started with a dish of roasted San Marzano tomatoes with goats curd.  It was ok: I'm not entirely sure how I feel about goats curd.  Most of me thinks that it's just under-salted soft goats cheese and wouldn't it be better if we all just acknowledged that sometimes a bit of chevre is nicer.  Anyway, after that we both had a girolle risotto with a truffle vinaigrette.  I'm a fairly recent convert to mushrooms, and can still be a bit tentative on that front.  This was really savoury, and despite the presence of the truffle element, had none of the pungency of mushrooms which, along with the sponginess, is the bit that can put me off.

Next came some braised halibut with apple, not a combination which I would have immediately thought successful.  But it was fantastic - the crunchy sweetness of the apple complimented the salinity and soft texture of the fish.  There then followed a salad containing ripe peaches and raw almonds, which I personally thought was slightly under-salted (although having said that, readers should note that I am a complete salt hound).

I am rarely able to resist ordering duck when it's present on a menu, so guess what I had for my main course?  This time it was served with roasted melon and some of the best Pommes Anna I've had.  It was a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of cooking: the duck breast was tender and the skin crisp, the potatoes were perfectly seasoned, and as for the melon... Well, I'm not sure if you'd asked me before this meal if I thought that would be a winning combination whether I would have said yes.  But now I can say this: duck and melon is an extemely good combination, especially when the melon in question is a nice piece of Charentais which has been cooked with a serious amount of butter and salt.  It was a blinder.

We ordered cheese on the basis that it would be churlish not to.  It was fabulous, but to be honest I can't quite remember what we had, apart from a Pecorino, which had been repeatedly bathed in red wine.  I think it was called "drunk Pecorino".  And then there were two courses of pudding, which was real reason why I think I elected to go for the tasting menu.  I mean, how often can one get away with having two pudding courses?

The first dessert was an Amalfi lemon tart which although it pains me to say, might have been better than the one I made at Leiths.  The pastry shell was something to behold - perfectly cooked throughout, and really, really thin. 

And then there followed a dish that caused us such unparalleled delight that I am almost getting a bit teary thinking about it now.  It was a pistachio souffle with a hot chocolate sauce.  Now, we "did" souffles at Leiths, so I know what a massive scary faff they can be.  This pistachio number emerged from the kitchen having puffed up to stand a good two inches proud of the ramekin in which it had been cooked.  It didn't even deflate when its sugared carapace was scored and a deeply dark chocolate sauce was poured into the hole.  And when we tasted it, well, suffice it to say that a profound silence descended over the table.  It was sublime.  I've been sitting here trying to think how to describe the taste.  I keep wanting to say that it was really nutty and yet really light and yet also really creamy.  That sounds terrible, but is also the closest I can get.

I think the cooking at Murano is pretty special.  It's clever and considered, yet the menu is really appealing.  There's nothing on it that makes you think "ooh, that sounds a bit weird and not in a good way".  The staff are utterly charming.  The sommelier got the measure of Mr. F and me straight away, and recommended a Gattinara Riserva which served our purposes well, it being smooth and full, but not too tannic.

So, Murano gets a proper double thumbs up from me.  I reckon it would definitely be worth a punt if you had something to celebrate, even if it is just your thirty-something husband having finally knuckled down and gotten a job.

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