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Manna Review

Xanthi Barker finds a vegetarian delight on Primrose Hill

Written by . Published on September 22nd 2011.

Manna Review

WALKING through the pastel quiet of early evening Primrose Hill, I wouldn’t have been surprised to be greeted by a shimmering spirit on arriving at Manna’s white and leafy door. Being one of the eldest vegetarian restaurant’s in London comes with a certain mystique. They were around when ‘vegetarian’ was still a dirty word. Keeping in line with this revolutionary ethos, they are now a fully vegan restaurant, having banished all animal products a good a few years ago. This is not something you’d tell by the menu, where ‘cream’, ‘cheese’ and ‘sausages’ pop up repeatedly.

If you don’t eat animals, eating out can be a bit like eating in a school canteen. You don’t really have a choice. While every animal you’ve ever heard of is listed on the menu in some gymnastic position (how about ‘spatch-cocked’ for a sick-sounding preparation?), the only flesh-free option is a cheese sandwich. The ‘finer’ the dining, the fleshier the menu. Manna, however, has found a key to that gourmet door that is not coated in a drop of blood.

If you don’t eat animals, eating out can be a bit like eating in a school canteen. You don’t really have a choice. While every animal you’ve ever heard of is listed on the menu in some gymnastic position (how about ‘spatch-cocked’ for a sick-sounding preparation?)

When we arrived the restaurant was empty, but quickly filled up. It is evening service only, during the week. If you want lunch you have to come at the weekend. The white walls stencilled with birds and sun-beamed windows had a tranquilising effect, encouraged even more by the minimalist menu design and lack of capital letters. 

Img_0754Raw maki

Img_0755Jerk tofu skewer

To begin our cruelty free jaunt into decadence, we had some organic, vegan cocktails – a kir royal light enough to float and a caramel-tasting Manna-hito. Bringing these, the waiter reeled off the list of specials, blushing at it’s ridiculous length. All I remembered was ‘raw maki’ (£7) so, interested to see how much raw-er sushi could get, I chose that. My date picked a jerk tofu skewer (£8) and when the two dishes arrived, it made my choice look decidedly anaemic.

The maki came with a wasabi puree that provided a necessary kick to an otherwise watery disappointment. The extra-raw factor I later discovered was the use of grated parsnip in place of rice. Maybe it’s my processed-food conditioning, but I missed the rice. The jerk tofu was sticky, nutty and addictive. The extra ripe plantain and sweet potato added a gluttony of almost dessert-like proportions.

Img_0763'Bangers and mash'

Next, we decided to see what twist Manna could put on tradition, ordering fennel and pumpkin seed ‘bangers and mash’ (£14) and wild mushroom ravioli (£12). The portions were generous, especially with the bangers and mash. The sausages were crispy, the mash creamy, and the gravy perfect for pouring. It was the kind of dish you’d have hugged your mother for – but maybe not told her to start a restaurant. The mushroom ravioli came in a fennel sauce and the flavours combined like cloud nine macaroni cheese. The ravioli filling was earthy and lip-licking. Only the ravioli itself was bizarrely tough – how can someone make vegetables taste like cream yet turn ravioli into fried leather? Crowned with a sun-dried tomato puree, however, this dish earned its forgiveness.

Img_0768Raspberry cheesecake

The only other special I remembered was a banana and beetroot sorbet for dessert, which I had been trying to imagine the texture of throughout dinner. Sadly this mystery was never revealed to me though, as my date has a serious mistrust of sorbet, and lured me instead to ordering the good old-fashioned raspberry cheesecake (£8). And for his mistrust I am truly grateful. The cheesecake came with some macadamia nut ice-cream that nearly made my tongue faint. It was smooth and sweet and punctured with nuts. If this is vegan ice-cream, someone needs to free the cows. The cheesecake, too, was pretty eye-watering. My over-stuffed date kindly let me share his banoffee trifle (£8), and although it was a little drippy, the flavours definitely worked.

With such a varied and exciting menu, I would go to Manna again just to see how their other dishes work out, but probably not crossing my fingers for perfection. And maybe I’d just order three courses of ice-cream.

4 Erskine Road
Primrose Hill, NW3 3AJ

Rating:         14/20

Breakdown:   7/10 food
                    3/5 ambience
                    4/5 service



Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.









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