I am a bad vegan. In all of my time in London, I have never made the effort to drag my ample frame to Manna in Primrose Hill.
What? You don’t know what Manna is?! It’s a good thing my friend Julie Hamill took a recent excursion to this world-famous vegan restaurant and has dropped by to tell you all about it. You would have been waiting an awfully-long time if you were depending on me getting there.
Visit Julie online to read some of here fabulous Morrissey-related interviews and of course follow her on Twitter where she runs the weekly MozArmy quiz… that’s right, a weekly Twitter quiz about Morrissey.
Tell us about Manna, Julie.
Manna’s not a banger
by Julie Hamill
I’m a vegetarian – not a vegan – but I appreciate and enjoy tasty vegan food, which forms part of the weekly menu in our house. I’m sure, like many other veggies and vegans, part of my enjoyment of food lies in discovering something new that I haven’t eaten before. I love going to new places, finding ideas, flavours and combinations, trying tasty morsels and generally talking about what folk eat, particularly if it is potato-based.
So when my Mr says ‘I’ve booked us a table at Manna’ I was as excited as a schoolgirl with an empty dinner tray at midday. My imagination was running wild with possibilities and un-tapped flavours of a completely vegan restaurant, not just any old vegan restaurant, but the one that everyone loves! The one that the celebrities go to! The longest established vegan restaurant in London! Oh the knowledge I could glean from these plates of beauty!
We arrived too early for the booking, so wandered round the corner to The Queens pub for a V&T. In true Primrose Hill style, Harry Styles from One Direction was outside the pub with Nick Grimshaw. Grimmie was only too pleased to encourage Harry’s love of ‘old ladies’ as I stopped for a quick pic with his puppy face before heading to the restaurant.
I consulted @Quarrygirl on twitter about what to order before the meal, and she raved about the bangers n mash. I wanted to listen to her, I really did, but I saw the spaghetti and veatballs on the menu and there was a bottle of very very nice red on the table (a 5/5 red) and it just seemed right. I was in a spaghetti mood, you know? I should have listened to her.
Our waitress was lovely and chatty, telling us that Geri Halliwell and Russell Brand had been in the night before (eating the bangers n mash I expect) as she brought our courses.
I started with the basil & cashew cheese croquettes (‘served on a bed of watercress & pea sprouts with home made chilli jam’). They were absolutely delicious, lovely creamy smooth filling and crispy orange outside. In fact, the colour and consistency reminded me (of a much better version) of Findus crispy pancakes, and accompanied with the lush red wine I was in hazy 70s heaven. 5/5 – would definitely eat again.
The Mister ordered the Indonesian satay (‘baked marinated bean curd skewer, served with chinese coleslaw topped with a nest of crisp noodles’). For some reason, we both expected this to be hot and crispy with lashings of peanut sauce (must have missed the word ‘baked’). It arrived like a thick slice of cold rubber on a plate. He ate it, albeit, irk-edly, but another glass of glorious wine made it all better. 1/5 – cold, rubbery, tasteless, dry, overpromise. The 1 is for presentation.
Next up the main courses: I ordered, knowing it was wrong, and hearing QG in my head, the organic spaghetti and veatballs (‘our specialty and new favourite!’). Oh God, I’m sorry Manna, but it was horrible. They brought me yeast flakes to sprinkle over the top and add flavour, but it reminded me of the ‘small animal bedding’ we use for the guinea pig. The spaghetti was very thick and hard, the sauce had no flavour and the veatballs were like eating balls of sawdust. 0/5.
The Mister ordered the Mediterranean platter (‘sesame falafel, quinoa tabouleh, harissa, lemon tahini, manna’s homemade hummus, green salad, served with grilled pita’) which he described as ‘flavourless’. What a shame! I really wanted him to have a great main meal (because I knew straight away that I needed to return to taste the bangers and mash) but I knew then that our fate was decided. We would not be returning as a couple. 0/5.
Thank goodness for lemon cheesecake! Light, fluffy, full of sweet lemony flavour, very moreish. Sadly the ginger vice cream had great chunks of hard ginger in it which jarred with the consistency. 4/5.
The Mister got the raw chocolate and maca brownie (‘sugar free, served with macerated vanilla cherries & raw coconut vice cream’). He put his spoon in it and it kind of crumbled apart on the plate. No. He didn’t like it. But the vice cream was nice. 2/5 for nice vice.
So what of Manna? We left as full as a friend said we would, but we couldn’t help feel that we had just been in a production of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, surrounded by diners tucking in and raving about flavour, while we looked on, puzzled. Did we order the wrong thing? Shouldn’t everything be delicious? It is a great restaurant in terms of atmosphere, ambiance, service, wonderful vegan wine selection and ambitious creativity with the food, but veggie or vegan, I know what good flavour and texture is, and sadly it wasn’t in some of what Manna had to offer.
But I’ll still go back for the bangers and mash. Table for one?
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