Angela Hartnett opened this venue in late 2013 in the premises that many moons ago I used to frequent when it was Petrus. Angela actually cooked here at one time with Marcus Wareing, so she certainly knows the place well. The formula is a familiar one: northern Italian food in a smart brasserie setting. The head chef is Sam Williams, who worked with Angela Hartnett at Murano; she was actually in the kitchen today, too, rather than out promoting a book or TV appearance as seems to me the norm these days in London. There was a three-course £22 menu in addition to the a la carte choices.
The almost entirely Italian wine list had around 100 options from around the country, and started at £19.50. Wines included Grillo Uriel Poggio Anima 2012 at £25 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £11, Cascina Luisin Sori Paolin at £90 for a wine that retails at around £33, and Marion Amarone della Valpolicella 2008 at £135 for a wine that will set you back around £54 in a shop. Bread was bought in, but was unusually good: rosemary focaccia from Balthazar Bakery was light and delicious (15/20).
At £3, truffled arancini was never going to involve any late season Alba white truffles. Instead a trio of rice balls were flavoured with Parmesan and truffle oil before being deep-fried. As you may be aware, truffle oil is an artificial chemical (2,4-dithiapentane) in olive oil that has nothing whatever to do with the real thing except that its fragrance has a passing resemblance to truffles. Despite this enthusiastic marketing of the dish, the Parmesan flavour was good, the risotto inside comforting, the outside crispy and golden (14/20).
Spaghetti carbonara (£11) was a capable version of the classic dish, the spaghetti having good texture, the rich mix of eggs, pancetta and pepper with Parmesan (but no pesky cream) a suitably warming dish for this rainy London winter day (14/20).
Chicken Milanese (£15.50) was a generous portion of chicken coated in flour and then deep-fried, served with rocket salad. The frying was accurate, the chicken not having a great deal of flavour but the rocket nicely fresh and peppery (13/20).
Orange panna cotta (£5.50) was excellent, with the cream, milk and sugar base being suitably wobbly, orange segments providing acidity and toasted sugared almonds a textural contrast (15/20).
Coffee (£2.80) was Musetti and was very pleasant, with a little biscuit actually made in the kitchen rather than the rock-hard versions that most Italian restaurants in London put on the side of your coffee cup. Service was excellent, the staff friendly and efficient. The bill, with just water to drink came to £44 at lunch. If you drank a modest wine then the bill would come to around £65 a head. This is hardly cheap, but you are in St James and the cooking is capable. Café Murano is not striving for culinary fireworks, but does produce enjoyable, comforting food.