You’ll find Manteca off Poland St, your doorway to Soho and a welcome break from the manic throngs of Oxford St.
It calls itself ‘nose to tail’ British-Italian but that’s as far as the buzzwords go. Fans of 84-page restaurant mission statements will find meagre pickings here: Manteca is less interested in parading fashionable credentials than feeding you very happily indeed. David Carter of Smokestak is one of the owners: that’s the kind of DNA which breeds confidence, even if I hadn’t been recommended lunch here by the ever-reliable Simon Carlo of the Meat and One Veg blog.
It’s welcomingly informal, with a bare concrete floor and a letterbox window into the kitchen. We order liberally. Taut, fleshy tomatoes with grassy, fruity oil and salt: sweet, plump mussels, kissed by the smoky heat of ‘nduja are good signs of what is to come.
A taut-shelled pig’s head fritter- cliche demands I call it gold but this is more your lustrous copper- breaks open to spill its sultry tangle of flesh (is it plagiarism if you mimic yourself?) A thick tangy-sweet take on apple mostarda tops it all off very nicely.
This place will stand or fall on its pastas, of course. All are available in two sizes. Pappardelle is very good, the fat glossy golden ribbons dressed with shin, the strands of beef testament to hours patiently coaxing out of it sheer texture and flavour from the meat.
A recommendation: not that you order the brown crabmeat cacio e pepe- that’s a given- but that you ask for bread.
I was lusting after this before we arrived. A recommendation: this should come with bread as standard, because wasting a sauce of this depth and richness is just plain wrong. Like fancying Michael Gove. Or preferring smooth peanut butter. Or, gods help us, both together. It’s easily remedied. We ask, we get. We get to work. This is a pleasure to linger over, thick strands of tonnarelli dressed with sauce which is sweet and earthy and ozoney and the standard against which all subsequent seafood pasta dishes will now be judged.
We debate ordering the tagluatelle bolognese. Our server, who is absolutely charming, talks us into trying the ravioli. I’m glad she did.
The pasta is once again very accomplished, the depth of that filling a revelation. The sweetness is underlaid by the kind of delicate smokiness I’d imagine comes from properly charred kernels before blitzing. The golden girolles and nasturtium are the ideal peppery partners in a dish which is nothing short of gorgeous.
Beef. What a deft piece of cooking this is, a beautiful meeting of ingredient and technique. A piece of Wagyu-Jersey cross, oyster blade or feather blade or flat iron It has the sort of savoury crust you only get by heavy salting just before it meets the heat, and an achingly tender texture you get from a Wagyu-Jersey cross, cooked to a proudly ruddy interior.
It’s served only with a savoury slick of its rich cooking juices and it’s pretty much an object lesson in cooking steak. Adroitly, impeccably done.
A thick, gutsy swirl of chocolate is speckled with olive oil and salt, all inside a dainty pastry case which seems too fragile for its task. It’s impressive pastry work, a lovely end to the meal.
This turned into a three hour lunch, the sort of thing that unwinds even as the evening lot turn up. Expansive, not expensive, indulgent and easy going. This is the sort of place we need locally, the sort of place dedicated to serving you well and sending you onward full and content- the sort of place which does this day in day out.
And all this, in W1? Only £60 a head for lovely cooking and charming service. That should be eminently achievable locally at these prices: there are places in Cardiff which will charge you more for a bowl of pasta than Manteca does in W1. But more than that- it’s refreshing to have a restaurant whose approach is uncluttered and focused on its menu.
58-59 Great Marlborough Street, Soho, W1F 7JY
Monday – Friday 1200 – 1500 / 1700 – 2300
Saturday 1200 – 2300
Bookings open two weeks in advance via https://mantecarestaurant.co.uk/book
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.