Wednesday 7 September 2022

Manteca, Shoreditch

You may notice a rather dramatic improvement in the quality of photography on this blog post compared to the usual. There's a very simple reason for this - they're not mine. I visited Manteca last week not on a PR invite but as part of a work business lunch, which although meant we got to try a wide selection of dishes from this brilliant new restaurant, it also unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective) meant I felt a bit too self-conscious to do the usual antisocial snapping. So credit for the pictures illustrating this post goes to a combination of Anton Rodriguez (the food) and Mariell Lind Hansen (interiors) via the Manteca PR Nancy Brownlow, so thanks v much to all those people.

Anyway, the food at Manteca deserves better than my meagre artistic efforts. This is a seriously impressive, important restaurant working at the top of its game, and their fresh take on modern Italian food is so good as to be something approaching a game-changer in the capital. I know, I know - you've probably heard all this before. And I admit I have been equally breathless about places like Padella and Bancone in the past, when they were the bright new things. But Manteca, honestly, is another level above.

At first glance, of course, it just looks like another Italian restaurant. The menu has the odd eyebrow-raising ingredient here and there (including gazpacho on an otherwise staunchly Italian menu) but with its arrangements of small plates, pasta dishes and larger sharing items it's very much in the mold of places that have graced the capital since forever. You may think we've all been here before. So did I. And then the food arrived.

Focaccia is made in the bakery downstairs all through service - none of your yesterdays bread served here thank you very much. It's gorgeous - of course it is - drizzled with olive oil and with just exactly the right amount of salt. That's it on the right there, next to a plate of cured meats we didn't order. Looking at that though I'm kind of wishing we had.

A salad of lovely soft, sweet, room temperature (strange how rare this is, and it makes all the difference) tomatoes came dressed with bottarga, a genius move which gave a lovely additional texture as well as adding an extra hit of umami.

Ricotta is apparently made in-house, and it shows through a fantastic fluffy mouthfeel and dairy freshness. It comes under a blanket of breadcrumbs, roast peach, fresh mint and chilli, a riot of colour and flavour that generously outpaces its modest £8.50 price point.

Seabass crudo came as a few elegantly sliced bits of fish under a dainty dressing of cucumber, fennel and lemon juice, easily as classy and attractive as anything from a top Japanese restaurant. I have no photo of this I'm afraid, but please take my word for it, it was beautiful inside and out.

Also not pictured is "venison fritti", a giant (singular, despite the name) cylinder of slow-roasted venison (haunch I assume) encased in a delicate breadcrumb. Not only did I not get a picture of this but I didn't even get to try it - but I have it on good authority it was "delicious". So delicious in fact it disappeared before it reached my end of the table, but I'm not bitter honestly.

I always order gazpacho when I see it on a menu. There are a million different ways of constructing this cold summer soup, with almost as many ingredients to decide whether or not to include, but I personally always look for a version with a good strong hit of garlic. This was exactly that, the allium burning the tongue with each sip. Great stuff.

Then, we tried all four pasta dishes and spent the next fifteen minutes or so arguing about which one was the best. Was it the rigatoni in the shocking forest green kale sauce, which felt like it was boosting your life expectancy with every bite? Or perhaps the thick strands of tonnarelli soaked in a "brown crab cacio e pepe" so rich and beguiling it was like taking a morning swim in the Mediterranean? How about the shapely fazzoletti in a dense duck ragu crunchy with breadcrumbs and high with red wine, worth the journey all by itself? Or even the mortadella campanelle, thickened with parmesan cream? We couldn't decide - they were all essentially perfect, each individually the best pasta I've ever eaten in London, and together a kind of masterclass in the art of pasta. Truly extraordinary.

Manteca hardly needed to do anything else after the pasta courses to convince us that something very special indeed was going on here, but Creedy Carver duck breast, fanned out in neat pink slices and served alongside an incredible sausage made with (presumably amongst other things) duck offal was just yet another reason to fall in love with the place. If you are desperate for something negative to lay on Menteca then perhaps the pink fir potatoes weren't anything much more than nice, but then I'm not a huge potato fan anyway so there's every possibility you'd fall in love with these, too.

We drank Chin Chin Vinho Verde during the meal, then shots of Fernet with our dessert doughnuts ("zeppole") and raspberry cream. The bill, which also included a cocktail each (I can recommend the Calabrian Buck with brandy and amaro) came to £65 each and I can tell you I've spent an awful lot more for an awful lot worse. This is a mid-range Italian restaurant operating at world-class levels, with sparkling service and a bright, bustling atmosphere only adding to the overall levels of awesomeness.

So yes, I loved Manteca. It's not even 9 months since the shift from Heddon Street popup to the current Shoreditch location and it's already settled into its role as one of the best Italians in London. I realise claims like that are hard to quantify and can be less than useful. What I can promise you is that I've not had a better Italian meal for a long time, perhaps ever, and I'm as sure as it's possible to be that if you went you'd feel the same, too. In fact, Manteca may be the only Italian restaurant you'll ever need.



Anonymous said...

After all the hype over Manteca I came away very disappointed.

The tomatoes in the tomato salad hadn’t been seasoned. The bottarga topping was delicious though. It was a similar story with the squid where the sauce was delicious but the squid itself was pretty mediocre.

The cacio e pepe was not properly emulsified, and that was the dish I was really looking forward too. Finally the ewe chop had areas that were frankly just burnt and unpleasant to eat.

Judging by the Google reviews you either get a perfect meal pr a pretty mediocre one depending, I assume, on who’s running the kitchen for that service.

Me again said...

Two visits both amazing food and vibes