The celebrity chef has a long food association with Mayfair, firstly at the Connaught and now at Murano. She tells us the secrets to her success
What is the key to Murano’s longevity?
The success of any restaurant is consistency. People are creatures of habit and will go back to the same place. Now more than anything service is the key. People will forgive a bit of over-seasoned meat or the odd thing like that; they will not forgive bad service. You need to make people feel that they’re coming to your house.
Who are your typical customers?
There are a lot of regulars, a lot of people from the Connaught days and lots of customers who come every week. We’ve got one guy who has a standing reservation every Saturday and comes in with his family.
How is the menu at Murano structured?
We’ve changed the format slightly, which is something that we did about 18 months ago. Before, we would always have three courses: starters; mains and desserts. We had a tasting menu but inevitably people would want to swap this and that and we would never say no so we’ve changed the format. Now, we serve two, three, four or five courses and there is a price per how many courses you have. You choose what you want which leaves it really ﬂexible. People love it, and the fact that it’s so ﬂexible makes it very easy.
You have a reputation of being very laid-back. How do you maintain that?
Your nature is your nature. At the end of the day it’s just food and I really do believe that. We don’t save lives, we cook for people and you have to set and follow a standard. Never truer are the words that ‘you are only as good as your last meal’ and the moment you start saying ‘oh no, that doesn’t matter’ is the moment that you start to take your eye off the ball and things will slowly follow. It’s a very rapid descent so you always have to be on it and the key to doing it is making sure you have a good team around you. I love my job and I’m doing reasonably well but you’ve got to keep things in perspective.
What did you do before you became a chef?
All my mates were going off to university including my brother. I didn’t want to start work straight away and I think that it also gives you another perspective. This industry is hard enough with the hours, so to start doing that at 17 or 18 – there is no way I would have wanted to do that. I wanted to have a bit more of a relaxed time. I liked history, I was good at it and it was the one A-level that I got a fairly decent grade in. I went off to Cambridge Poly and it was great.
What is it like for female chefs in your industry?
I think it’s achievable. When people start arguing the case that women can’t do this, I think it’s nonsense. There’s always going to be a level of more men then women because women have babies and men don’t. It’s not being sexist; it’s just stating a fact. I don’t speciﬁcally hire women for the sake of it, I hire people who are good at their job. There are some great people out there such as Lisa Allen, Sally Clark and Ruth Rogers. All these women have just been women because they’re good cooks and not because I’m going to ﬁght the feminist bandwagon. I think these days no-one really worries one way or another.
Do you have any good food memories?
I do remember forgetting my keys one day at Petrus and then ringing someone up en- route, to go and get them. We ended up opening forty minutes late. Marcus (Wareing) would always be there before me; I don’t think I ever got to work before him. I’m not trusted with any keys since. Whenever I have to open on a Sunday or I come in here, I have to have the keys left for me somewhere.
What’s your favourite thing to eat?
Roast chicken, really simple and plain with lemon and thyme.
Have you had any tips from Gordon Ramsay?
Consistency and making sure you keep your standards – that really is the thing that I learnt from Gordon at a very early age. And always keep moving forward – don’t think you’ve done it, as you never really have. Gordon was extraordinarily enthusiastic about new dishes and would be the one who would say, ‘I’ve brought this back, take a look’.
How does ‘little sister’ Cafe Murano compare to the original restaurant?
I wanted to create something relaxed, informal and accessible, with a focus on traditional and regional Italian dishes. We’re about to see huge changes in St. James’s so it’s exciting to be contributing to this as the area becomes an outstanding destination for culture and dining.
020 7495 1127; muranolondon.com