Friday, 13 January 2012
Manson, Parsons Green
There are few experiences more surreal than being the only customer in an empty restaurant and being comprehensively ignored by every member of staff. Certainly, there are times in life where the ability to make yourself invisible would come in handy - to avoid having to contribute in work meetings perhaps, or if you find yourself on the front row of a particularly confrontational stand-up comedy gig - but in a restaurant, it's not ideal. After a period staring thirstily towards Manson's handsome bar, while groups of waiting staff prodded importantly at cash registers and generally got on with the kinds of things waiting staff do when there isn't a customer at the other side of the room waiting to be served, I was beginning to wonder if the District Line had finally done what it has been threatening to do all these years and I'd died somewhere en route to Parson's Green. Not having been a particularly good Christian (I could never get over that whole "believing in God" stumbling block sadly) I began to worry I was trapped in Food Blogger Hell, condemned to pitifully flap for attention for all eternity, hungry, thirsty and forlorn.
In the midst of this existential panic, my friend arrived, helpfully reassuring both that I was not dead (at least not yet) and, by the fact that she'd managed to get from the front door to the table without being greeted or even noticed, that if I was in Food Blogger Hell, at least I wasn't alone. And then, finally, we managed to get served, and for the few precious minutes it took us to drink our aperitifs (sparkling wine and rhubarb, very good indeed but you'd hope so at £10.50 a glass) all was well with the world.
It wasn't that the food at Manson was bad, exactly - most of it was fine, some of it was good, and it did all look the part - but it was occasionally quite... odd. Take my starter of turbot with pigs trotter sauce; the sauce very well executed in that classically-trained way, being perfectly reduced and rich in flavour and colour, it just didn't sit very well with the fish - it felt like a sauce meant for a bloody hunk of rare venison or aged beef steak. And the fish itself was the strangest texture, not dry exactly but dense and congealed - fresh fish should break into moist flakes, but this split apart like meat jelly and I really missed a nice crispy skin. Caraway-cured sea trout though, paired with lightly pickled vegetables, was a more successful experiment and the pretty coils of Romanesco broccoli made for a very attractive plate of food.
Catastrophically underseasoned Mallard (as in, it was completely unseasoned) spoiled what could possibly have been a better dish, although even without sodium's helping hand I didn't detect much flavour in the meat. It was presented in a deep bowl which at first I thought was strange until I realised the duck and the salad vegetables were sitting on top of a wonderfully rich game soup of some kind - I could have easily just swallowed a pint of this on its own as nothing else was worth the effort. More ill-advised experimentation also affected my friend's roast gurnard - let's just say there's a reason you don't often see parsnips and fennel seed yoghurt on the same plate, although even that aside, the fish was overcooked and dry.
In the manner of a line manager tasked with motivating his staff, I will follow up bad feedback with good by saying the cheese course at Manson was very nice. Consisting entirely of British and Irish cheeses, a number of which were unpasteurised and unfamiliar to me, we particularly enjoyed a nutty semi-hard Doddington and lovely fluffy unpasteurised goat's. Some of them had sweated slightly under the heat of the bar where they were kept but nothing too disastrous and they were generous both with the portions of cheese and the basket of crackers. I suppose it's not rocket science, serving cheese, but credit where credit's due.
I'm prepared to believe that I didn't get as much out of an evening at Manson as others might. It is, after all, a lovely room in a nice part of town and although staff got off to a bit of a shaky start, once it was all underway dishes arrived at a good pace and usually with a smile. But I'm afraid there were enough mistakes with the food, and enough weird textures and odd flavours, to make me uncomfortable and I can't honestly say that I'm confident enough in their ability to pull off a good - even normal - meal to warrant a return visit.
I was invited to review Manson