Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cafe Murano - How does an owner get treated?

We had a good dinner at Murano a few years ago, which, since then had got itself a Star in Michelin. Murano is owned by Angela Hartnett a one-time protégé of Gordon Ramsay who has herself became a mini restaurateur. Her kingdom now has Murano, two Café Murano – at Covent Garden and St James’s – a restaurant in Shoreditch and one in France. Her style is Northern Italian which she says is due to her Italian grandmother’s influence.

We had a reservation at Café Murano at St. James’s at 7.30. Despite being called a Café, do not be fooled, this is far from being a café. The place was absolutely full of older men and women all rather wealthy, having dinner. Walk ins were older punters stepping out of offices from nearby. You could not turn up in jeans and a T Shirt. This was a “suit boot ka restaurant”.  

After a pleasant walk we arrived, had coats taken away, got our names checked on the computer and, gasp, were led to the Bar and given 2 seats. Menus were handed out for drinks and food. This was not good. Standing at a bar and drinking is all very well and it is in fact our preferred area in a bar. But to have dinner perched on a bar stool is not our idea of fun. So I asked the barman if he could give us a table as we were really not happy. I told him we had made a reservation. He got into a huddle with the receptionist, profuse apologies about the “mix up” and soon we were at a table. Ooof. Much better. Immediately blood pressure came down.

Once again menus were handed out and we ordered our dinner. Some Focaccia and brilliant Olive Oil was placed on the table. Oh, how I wish we could get bread of this quality in Mumbai. Starters were delicious, hot, crisp on the outside and moist in the centre, mini Arancini with Truffle. Good Burrata with roast peppers was excellent too.

Being an Italian restaurant, after the starters we ordered plates of Primi which is normally a pasta. HRH The Queen of Kutch had Oxtail Tortelli with Marjoram which was really delicious. The quality of the Pasta itself was excellent. 

I had Gnocchi, Braised Lamb & Baby Onions. This knocked my socks off. The Onions were pickled and the sour onions worked beautifully with the soft pillowy Gnocchi and rich shredded Lamb. You could say cynically that this was nothing but mutton curry with ‘Batata’ and ‘Kanda Kachumber’ and you may not be wrong. After all Gnocchi is made with potato. But I assure you that this was a fabulous dish.

As my Secondi I had Pork belly, Cabbage, Chestnut puree & Castelfiorito Lentils which are basically our Saboot Masoor. This was top class too. HRH the Queen had no Secondi as her dainty stomach cannot handle so much.

The food was terrific. No regrets. The “mix up” with the seating was forgotten. The Sommelier was a young lady who had on a necklace with the word “Parmatma” written in Devnagri. I asked her how she got the necklace. She got it from a Buddhist Monk when she was in Nepal. She did not know how to pronounce it or what it meant and, obviously could not read it. So HRH The Queen of Kutch wrote out Parmatma in English and explained the meaning to her. Sommelier was quite pleased.

While the whole evening ended up being magical what happened during our meal got me thinking.

At some point, Angela Hartnett walked in with 3 lady friends. They stood by the bar, ordered drinks and waited for a table. The table next to ours was being cleared and set up, when another table inside the restaurant got vacant. The 4 were seated there. What struck both HRH The Queen of Kutch and me was, here is the owner, in civvies, walking into her own restaurant and there was not the slightest of fuss. None of the waiters seemed to be in awe or offer her preferential treatment. To my mind not one other table suffered because the service staff was distracted by the owner being there. Looking at it differently, I was rather sad that no one among the guests seemed to bother that she was in. No one walked up to her and shook her hand. I wonder if she would have been so unrecognized if she had turned up in her chefs whites. I realized that she is really not as big a star as the Ramsays and Olivers and Roux of the world.

I don’t think either the fact that the other customers did not suffer because of the presence of the owner nor the fact that the owner was generally unrecognized would have happened in India. I have seen it on umpteen occasions in India when the owner or bossman of the restaurant, obviously eating and drinking free, would be given treatment to the detriment of other paying customers.

Anyway, that is the difference I guess between India and the West. Kowtowing is in our DNA.

No photos by me. Just some images from the Internet.   

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