Italian Restaurant Review: Manteca, Shoreditch, London
Between visiting and writing this review, Manteca was voted 11th best restaurant in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards. This puts Manteca – and its Bib Gourmand – between L’Enclume in Cumbria and The Angel at Hetton in North Yorkshire, which can claim four Michelin stars (and one green star) between them.
You could look at all of this in several ways. First, NRAs are a bit ubiquitous or just work on a different scale than Michelin. Two is the kind of pressure no restaurant really needs. Three, expect to see Manteca become a star in 2023… And, having subsequently returned to Manteca, I can assure you that it is none of those things.
Manteca is like Manteca was: a beautiful flowery place, run by lovely, knowledgeable people, where you can get surprisingly good value and a really bloody good meal. If there is pressure, they don’t show it. If there’s a star coming up, well, it’ll happen because Michelin loves what they do, not because Manteca is trying to impress the judges.
What should you order?
Manteca, according to Google, is a “simple Italian-inspired dinner” where “fire-cooked nose-to-tail cuts of meat meet hand-rolled pasta.” Not a bad description like that. There’s a philosophy of sharing, cooking is a great spectator sport (at least three of our selections come from that influence rather than the menu) and that nose-to-tail stuff (and whole animal butchery) shines through in several dishes and, in particular, the homemade salumi (and the glass-fronted aging room is an interior design showpiece I’d like in my apartment please, impractical as that may be ). The restaurant itself is sort of standard Shoreditch industrial chic but, after the pop-ups in Mayfair and Soho, there’s a style and energy to the space that makes Manteca feel like it’s finally home. It’s as comfortable as it is practical, which is surprising given the ZIP code trend.
So, once installed, what should I order? Well, assuming you’re not vegetarian or vegan or have any dietary requirements… anything. Or, in fact, everything. And, by the time we skipped the menu — effectively broken down into snacks, small plates, pastas, mains, and sides — we got much, much closer to the latter. And, frankly, there is no failure between them. Sure, there are things I would order again — and, in the case of the fried olive (stuffed with pork sausage) we make — and things I wouldn’t, but that’s fine. And, often, very good, salumi is a good example. Some places being so self-sufficient seem like a gimmick, a little running race, but whoever runs the program here knows what he’s doing.
Fat tastes good…
The ‘signature’ dish – if the Instagram cover is any indicator of such things – is probably pork skin stew, parmesan, crispy skin and, it’s a rich, fatty, crispy, porky little bowl of genius and indicative of Manteca’s mastery of the rule that fat tastes good. There’s fazzoletti with duck stew and pangrattato with duck fat (breadcrumbs), there’s a Herdwick Cull Yaw cutlet…everywhere you look it’s cooking for flavor, not for form . I mean, salumi roast potatoes, anyone? You just have to really, right?
There is a short list of puddings which changes regularly. The wine list has a good selection by the glass and the knowledgeable staff are happy to guide you through the lesser-known grapes. With small plates between £8-10, pasta around £15, you can also leave well fed and watered down for around £40 pp. You probably won’t – and it requires levels of willpower that I just don’t have – but you could. Either way, it’s good value for the quality of the ingredients and the cooking on display. Eleventh best restaurant in the country? It’s debatable, however, Manteca is an absolute belt with considerable promise for the future.
Manteca, 49-51 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT; mantecarestaurant.co.uk