Angela Hartnett is surely tired of answering questions about how it feels to be a successful woman chef. Learning her trade on the job, she was a Gordon Ramsay protégée, helping him launch several restaurants before leading at The Connaught during his ownership of the Michelin-starred favourite.
She then netted another Michelin star for her first solo venture, Murano – inspired by her family’s home region of Bardi, Italy – and it was here that her ability to imbue home-style recipes with sophisticated subtlety and flare was brought to the fore. To this day she remains one of the jewels in London’s culinary crown – and was even awarded an MBE for services to her industry. Now in her mid-forties, Hartnett is passing on the torch. By supporting two new initiatives, Café Murano launched by her former sous chef Sam Williams, and Merchants Tavern by another of her sous chefs, Neil Borthwick (also her boyfriend), Hartnett has crystalised her position as not only a talented chef but as a mentor of other talented chefs. At a time when the number of high-ranking women in professional kitchens is still paltry compared with the number of men, this seems a feat worth noting. Though, she would beg to differ.
"By supporting two new initiatives, Hartnett has crystalised her position as not only a talented chef but as a mentor of other talent chefs"
"I’m certainly not the only female to have mentored young chefs,” she says. “Just look at the amazing talent to have developed from the River Café under the guidance of Ruth and Rose." She continues, "I work hard and consider myself lucky to be surrounded by such inspiring chefs as Neil and Sam. The only way to grow your business as a chef is by empowering those with strong capability and trusting them to carry out a shared vision.”
Café Murano, on St James’ Street, is a more casual affair than its namesake, though the menu of simple Italian dishes done with aplomb is similar to what Williams would have been cooking under Hartnett’s guidance. A dish such as Swiss chard, spinach, and ricotta tortelli is done with grace, while the Hunter’s chicken with garlic and rosemary (essentially a chicken cacciatore) is served unadorned but is full of big flavour. On the other side of town, in Shoreditch, Merchants Tavern is a large eatery with British classics including roast loin of venison, braised red cabbage and sprout tops, which shares menu space with seasonal dishes such as baked autumn vegetables, speck, and poached hen’s egg.
Despite their differences in approach, Hartnett has backed both restaurants, and they are already thriving. Though not run by the woman herself, her involvement is a reminder of what Hartnett herself says: “It doesn’t really have anything to do with gender if you are committed to it.”
Café Murano is at 33 St James's St, London SW1A 1HD. Merchants Tavern is at 36 Charlotte Rd, London EC2A 3PG