In Review

Manteca, London review: an ‘absolute belter’ of an Italian restaurant

This Shoreditch hotspot is a blooming nice place where you can have a genuinely great meal

Between the visit and writing this review, Manteca was declared the UK’s 11th best restaurant in the National Restaurant Awards. That places Manteca – and its Bib Gourmand – between L’Enclume in Cumbria and The Angel at Hetton in North Yorkshire, who can claim four Michelin stars (and one green star) between them. 

You could look at all of that in a number of ways. One, the NRAs are a little all-over-the shop or simply work to a different scale than Michelin. Two, that’s the sort of pressure no restaurant really needs. Three, expect to see Manteca step up to a star in 2023… And, having subsequently popped back to Manteca, I can assure you that it’s none of the above.

Manteca is as Manteca was: a blooming nice place, run by charming, knowledgeable people, where you can have a surprisingly good value and genuinely bloody great meal. If there’s pressure, they’re not showing it. If there’s a star inbound, well, it’ll happen because Michelin likes what they’re doing, not because Manteca is trying to impress the judges. 

There’s true nose-to-tail cooking at Manteca

There’s true nose-to-tail cooking at Manteca

What should you order?

Manteca, according to Google, is a “simple, Italian-inspired diner” where “fire-cooked nose-to-tail cuts of meat meet hand-rolled pasta.” That’s not a bad description as it goes. There’s an ethos towards sharing, the cooking makes a great spectator sport (at least three of our selections come from this influence rather than the menu) and that nose-to-tail thing (and whole animal butchery) shines through in several dishes and, particularly, the house-made salumi (and the glass fronted ageing room is an interior-design flourish I’d like in my flat please, however impractical that may be). The restaurant itself is sort of standard Shoreditch industrial chic but, after pop-ups in Mayfair and Soho, there’s a style and energy to the space that makes it feel like Manteca is finally home. It’s also as comfortable as it is practical, which comes as something of a surprise given the trendiness of the postcode. 

So, once settled, what should you order? Well, assuming you’re not vegetarian or vegan or have any dietary requirements… anything. Or, indeed everything. And, by the time we’ve skipped through the menu – effectively broken down into snacks, small plates, pasta, bigger mains and sides – we’ve erred much, much closer to the latter. And, frankly, there’s not a misfire among them. Sure, there are things I’d order again – and, in the case of the fried olive (stuffed with pork sausage) we do – and things I wouldn’t, but all is good. And, frequently, very good, the salumi a case in point. Some places being so self-sufficient feels like a gimmick, a little bandwagon chasing but whoever’s running the programme here knows what they’re doing. 

Everywhere you look this is cooking for flavour, not fitness

Everywhere you look this is cooking for flavour, not fitness

Fat tastes good…

The “signature” dish – if Instagram-coverage is an indicator of such things – is probably the pig skin ragu, parmesan, crispy skin and, it’s a little bowl of rich, fatty, crispy, porky genius and indicative of Manteca’s grasp of the rule that fat tastes good. There’s fazzoletti with duck ragu and duck fat pangrattato (breadcrumbs), there’s a Herdwick Cull Yaw chop… everywhere you look this is cooking for flavour, not fitness. I mean, salumi roasted potatoes anyone? You just have to really, right? 

There’s a short, regularly changing list of puddings. The wine list has a good selection by the glass, and knowledgeable staff will happily steer you through the lesser-known grapes. With small plates coming in around the £8-£10 mark, pastas at around £15, you can also leave well-fed and watered for around £40 a head. You probably won’t – and doing so requires levels of willpower I simply don’t possess – but you could. Irrespective, it’s good value for the quality of ingredients and cooking on display. Eleventh best restaurant in the country? That’s debatable, however, Manteca is an absolute belter with considerable promise for the future.

Manteca, 49-51 Curtain Rd, London EC2A 3PT; mantecarestaurant.co.uk 

Manteca Italian restaurant

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