Drink & Dine

Review: Cafe Murano & The American Bar


Michelin-starred Murano’s little sibling, Café Murano has become the latest hot spot in the trendy Green Park area. The menu draws inspiration from North Italy with Chef Angela Hartnett looking to draw in regulars as well as destination diners. The atmosphere is cosy with warm lighting and woods although a bit of light background music would have been a great addition. The staff are friendly but seemed a tad lost at times with parts of our order being forgotten twice and the wine only arriving at the end of the meal.

Food: ★★★  Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★★☆☆ Value: ★★ Overall: ★★★

Meeting friends?

Our group of 7 was coming from all over town, so we gathered at the quirky and kitschy American Bar at the Stafford Hotel. It’s just a few minutes away but fairly hidden so getting a table was reasonably easy. Keep in mind, if you enter the hotel from the main entrance you’ll need to walk through the posh restaurant first, so maybe try to sneak in the back.

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The drinks at the American Bar are overall pretty good with a solid selection of beer and wines going down well. My old fashioned was off balance with the sharp bite of the rye needing a little more TLC from the bitters and sugar to temper it. Drinks here aren’t cheap (our total bill was £60 for 6 of us) although my old fashioned was £17 of that), but the atmosphere does make it worth it for a casual one while you wait. Plus they have a killer whiskey selection – always a win.

For a cheaper option, well good luck. There is Babble Bar down Berkley St which is a better value proposition but you’ll be swarmed by suits from the nearby offices or you can go the other way and pop into the Ritz for a posh one!

Let’s talk food

The menu looked quite appealing and the special dish of hogget (an adolescent lamb) was especially intriguing. We ordered (or at least tried to) all except one of the cicheti and primi (aka starters) as no one felt keen on the Ribollita (a bean soup). This is when things started to go wrong but we’ll get to that later.

My picks on the starters would be the Vitello Tonnato – thinly sliced cold veal with a type of pesto – and the giant roasted prawns, and the truffle arancini. The veal was succulent and flavorful and the prawns sweet with just the right amount of crunch. The arancini came in a group of four small bite-sized balls, but the aromatic truffle was a delight.

Vitello Tonnato

Vitello Tonnato

Our mains again ran through most of the menu with the favourite being the Hogget special and my pick (based on the waiter’s suggestion) of the Pork Collar. The special was truly that with juicy tender meat served with a celeriac puree and plenty of jus. The meat was a bit gamier than your typical young lamb, largely due to the older animal, and this gave it a bold flavor that was very moreish.

Hogget special

Hogget special

My Pork Collar, however, was deceptively dry and seemed to stick in my throat. Perhaps it was left on the grill for a little too long but it was the only time in recent history I’ve left a meal half finished. The other dishes seemed to all be well executed so I’ll chalk it up to an off-dish and hope that was the case.

Although we had cake, we also got the chocolate fondant and tiramisu to try out the desserts. The tiramisu was a bit dry (I seem to have had bad luck on that front) but the chocolate fondant was incredible – and quite possibly the second best one in London after Champagne + Fromage.

And the drinks?

The cocktail list was small but inclusive. My Italian take on an espresso martini was a bit fruitier than normal which gave it a fuller body and slightly sweeter taste. The gin martini was strong but also on the sweeter side which made it quite appealing after a sip or two.

Drinks!

Drinks!

Wines start at around £20-25 in both red and white which is quite reasonable and both of our picks at that range (a slightly dry white and a fruity red) went down well with the group. I wish I had a picture remind me of the exact grapes/labels though.

I’d also point out the inclusion of something a bit more unusual – orange wine. No, this isn’t a wine made from oranges but rather a different approach to a rose-type wine. I can only assume it’s orange coloured and would have loved to try it but at £60 for the cheapest bottle and none by the glass, it was out of my price range.

Alright, what happened with the service?

It started with the starters as only 5 dishes showed up when we had ordered 9 – and one of the 5 was the Ribollita we didn’t want. Still, stiff upper lip and all that we figured the rest would show up shortly only to be informed that the kitchen didn’t have the order as presumably the first waitress had forgotten about them. We re-ordered and they arrived quickly after that but I’d expect the order process to be one of the fail-proof processes in a restaurant with this pedigree.

This continued with our second waiter who, although a lovely guy, didn’t include our sides orders in the main meal. He remembered once the food had arrived but we ended up cancelling them rather than wait to eat our mains.

However, kudos to them for catering to the fact it was a twin birthday party and bringing out the cake we had stashed earlier with a full range of candles. They even took it away and brought it out in slices after we had sang and embarrassed my cousins. It doesn’t completely forgive the earlier issues, but I appreciate the personal care and attention.

Worth the dosh?

I’m a bit torn here as the bill came to £48.50pp including service. Some dishes were well worth the money (the arancini, Vitello, and the Hogget special) and the wine and cocktails quite good value. But with the slow and forgetful service, I’m hesitant to go back. So I’ll mark this up as a maybe if I’m in the area and can’t splurge at Nobu.

Find Café Murano here

33 St. James’s St, London, SW1A 1HD

020 3371 559

http://www.cafemurano.co.uk

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