Cafe Murano, St James's, London
Cafe Murano is pretty unassuming on the outside. On the inside, a marble bar dominates the length of the dining room, handy for that quick bowl of lunchtime pasta and a cheeky glass of something. I loved that the tables had a decent amount of space between them and for a school night there was a nice buzz about the place.
It didn't take long before we'd sat down and had ordered a Menabrea beer and the Aperitivo Of The Day 'Tramonto di Luglio' (Myers Rum, Maraschino, Apricot, Sweet & Sour, Lavender bitters).
The menu was about to change, but I'm thankful for the selection on offer.
The waiting staff were attentive and offered up help when needed, but weren't overbearing in the slightest.
We had to have the Angela Hartnett signature arancini (£4.50) (did I mention it's her restaurant?) tightly packed risotto rice infused with truffle oil, rolled into balls and breadcrumbs then deep-fried to the perfect crispness.
Salumi with the crispiest Carta di Musica was a good place to start (£12), lots of flavourful meat but the clear winner was the Finocchio or fennel-studded salami.
A well-risen, pillow-soft Rosemary focaccia came with a small saucer (more's the pity) of Planeta olive oil.
We made relatively light work of the plates and moved to the Antipasti. A good-sized portion of octopus, potato and caper leaves lasted no longer than the click of the iPhone (£10.50). Salted and chopped tentacles worked well with the creamy salad potatoes and pickled caper leaves.
The Tagliatelle Amatriciana with grated pecorino was a well-chosen classic (£10.50/£17.00) and didn't disappoint. Lovely ribbons of fresh-egg pasta were tossed in a fresh tomato sauce with a generous grated topping of sharp and salty Pecorino.
Mr opted for the Spaghettini, anchovies and pangrattato (£10.00/£16.50). Again no surprise that the supplier of fresh pasta to Fortnum's around the corner is pretty good at making a good pasta. Being a huge fan of anchovies, he lapped up the dish of flavours, which was crowned with a breadcrumb and chilli crumb.
I thought I was full by this time and then spotted the courgette fritti (£3.75) I managed to work my way through a bowl of deep-fried, batter coated chips of courgette. Amazing.
Mr ploughed on to the Secondi. Beef rump, stracchino, San Marzano and basil (£21.00). What a joy to taste this plump Italian tomato, grown at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, sweet, dark red with the richness of the beef, which cut like butter, draped with creamy stracchino cheese. A perfect plate of food.
In fairness I was full but the salted caramel baked chocolate panna cotta was winking, heavily. This was the only dish which left me slightly disappointed. Sure it was creamy, and a nice set but the depth of flavour just wasn't there, even drizzled with a salted caramel sauce. That said, I ate the whole thing, so it wasn't that bad.
Lastly, the team at Cafe Murano saw it was my Birthday on my booking. I love a Happy Birthday plate and they didn't disappoint.
What a lovely evening. Shame it was a school night. I know we would have stretched it out and will return, without question.