Those three words are the most wonderful combination to us Brits. They are the signpost to those of us who work long hours midweek that a long weekend of chilled activities lie ahead and the most delicious thing of all: a Sunday where there are no Monday morning blues to worry about.
May in particular is joyous with a whopping two long weekends to enjoy and we thought we’d make the most of the first one since the weather was so lovely and our dear friends D&G were in town for their first visit to our new home.
Home made asparagus and duck eggs got the day off to a cracking start. The quality of the early, delicate Yorkshire asparagus from our favourite farm in Sand Hutton was a delight and the titanium-shelled duck eggs poached a treat, although our electric hob (that I’ve not got quite to grips with yet) gave me a scare or two re overcooked eggs.
We had a lunch booking at Cafe Murano, the little sister to Angela Hartnett’s impressive Michelin-starred mother ship in Mayfair. We’d carefully timed our day to allow a leisurely mooch along the South Bank, although the manic tourist bank holiday crowds and a well attended Spanish food festival meant it was reasonably stressful for my crowd averse outlook. But we rocked up early for our table and, joy of joys, we got seated early and the natural order of things was resumed.
We’d eaten here before on a very busy Valentine’s night and really enjoyed ourselves in the busy Friday night hubbub but the Sunday afternoon vibe was quite chilled and very enjoyable. Our late booking meant we were unrushed and the service was good (not that it wasn’t last time).
Italian small plates are the order of the day here and after much deliberation we each of decided to skip about the menu, ordering different plates of different sizes. It’s the perfect kind of menu for us: we love smaller dishes and more choices. It means more flavour and variety.
Mrs D and I went for frito misto, I added the Lobster linguine followed by the pork belly with clams. The lovely wife can’t resist a good risotto, especially one bursting with spring flavours like pea and mint. The frito misto was light as air, delicately leading the way for the Italian onslaught of flavour. Lobster linguine packed a deliciously fishy punch with an unusually generous amount of lobster meat. The pork belly with peas, clams and romanesco was sticky and comforting without being too cloying. At one point a peas stuck to the bottom of my fork and refused to move, such was the unctuous liquor in the dish. I didn’t want this dish to finish. The cime de rapa (humble turnip tops) accompaniment were bitterly beautiful, the warmth of chilli and the massive dose of iron delivering a real sense of well being — or maybe it was the perfect Gavi by the 500ml carafe doing its job.
Other highlights from our party included warm octopus with chickpeas and pesto (‘a triumph’), pea and mint risotto with ricotta (‘fresh and lovely’) and squid ink tagliolini with crab and radicchio (‘amazing freshly made pasta’).
Desserts were were admirably resisted but G and I couldn’t resist a vin santo with cantucci biscuits, the ice cold vin santo soaking into the pistachio-peppered biscuits with glee. By now the restaurant was emptying out towards the end of service and we slurped some energy boosting espresso and paid the bill. It’s worth noting that although Cafe Murano is in one of the smartest parts of London (St James) where real estate prices are amongst the highest in London, the chef patron is a Michelin-starred TV celeb, the prices are very reasonable indeed. We averaged £75 per head — but we did have two carafes of very good Gavi — D&G noting that a meal in Leeds earlier in the week wasn’t far off this cost but not at the same quality by a long chalk.
People have been asking me a lot about the cost to eat out in London, since we moved here. It’s true that you can spend a fortune — if you have the money — on some of the best food in the world, after all London is one of the true global cities so it’s to be expected. But I would say that the competition at the mid range level is fierce — and even fiercer at the low end. My conclusion is that If you’re canny, eating out in London can be done at a lower price and higher quality than in cities like Leeds or Manchester.
The truth is, Cafe Murano is a truly superb central London restaurant charging what are essentially Leeds prices. I have a very clear view about who is best served, the diners of the large regional cities in their captive markets, or the diners of London with infinite choice and competition.