In October 2010 the deal completed and now Murano is fully owned and run by Ms Hartnett. And yet for all that, the best part of a year later, it still feels likes a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Admittedly, there's little you can do about the décor. Giles Coren suggested in his review in The Times that all of Ramsay's protégé chefs had forced on them 'dining rooms modelled on the same Abu Dhabi hotel hairdressing salon' and indeed, the room did 'enjoy' a sort of gold leaf glow to it as if to imply it is worthy of its Mayfair postcode but which at the same time detracted from an individual identity.
Perhaps because of that, the restaurant structurally exudes formality which at times feels archaic against current restaurant trends where the likes of Heston's Dinner or Pollen Street Social can still offer fine food but while dialing the formality down a notch.
Finally, and most surprisingly, despite the change of control, the food, as much as we can tell from reading earlier reviews, hasn't changed that much. It is possible that Ramsay gave Hartnett full control over the menu from day one, though from what we know of the way Ramsay operates, we find that unlikely. The idea surely of Hartnett taking control (and surely her motive) should be to unleash pent up originality and creativity that is otherwise denied her as part of the larger Ramsay Holdings group. And yet we don't feel that either.
There's plenty on the menu that appeals though and while waiting for the ordered food to arrive, some nice extras are delivered to the table. A bowl of arancini arrives and some Parmesan crisp make for nice munchies, as does a board of ham and salami. An attractive basket of bread arrives but somewhat disappointingly, offers little taste wise.
The restaurant to their credit handled the issue well, our waiter checking with the chef precise details of the risotto's construction (yes there was truffle vinaigrette but they accepted our view that it was drowned by the balsamic), and they willingly offered an alternative starter. The replacement starter was the Minestrone, Spring vegetables, rocket pesto and Parmesan. This offered a generous portion of a good fresh Minestrone though a touch of cracked pepper to the dish would have also been welcome.
The beef was good but the reasonably generous portion of bone marrow added little by way of additional intensity to the dish which was a small shame. Accordingly, the dish was a competent main but not an extraordinary main.
Our dessert choices were Chocolate: milk chocolate ganache, smoked almond ice cream, and Souffle: banana, rum and raisin ice cream. Apart from the addition of popping candy to the chocolate which now seems ubiquitously employed with expectation of delight in a confection that used to sell for 5p a packet under the label of Space Dust when we were children, desserts were nice enough.
Finally, more extras with chocolate balls with hazelnut dusting, and a bowl of cherries while we settled the bill.
Second, the wine is very expensive. With only a single glass of wine required today but wanting to make it count, I opted for a red Bordeaux. The Chateau Le Puy 2005, served by the glass (125ml) was being charged at a hefty £19 which, with service, takes the total to £21. A check on wine-searcher when home revealed that while Le Puy it is not widely sold, it is available from wine-source at £17 a bottle pre VAT so under £21 a bottle post VAT. Put another way, there's a 600% mark up on this wine by the glass; that seems a lot to us and we were glad we didn't require a whole bottle.
Overall then, despite the change of ownership, this felt like a meal from the Ramsay range, mostly competent but rarely thrilling. From the décor to the wine list it also felt very Mayfair. Angela Hartnett seems like a natural talent but we got the sense that maybe she's not a natural risk taker. We wonder if Murano would be a more exciting place if she could dial up by a notch or two that side of her personality so putting distance between her and her Ramsay heritage.
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