WHAT’S MANNA? According to their own website, at forty-seven years old Manna is ‘one of Europe’s finest and oldest gourmet vegetarian establishments’ offering ‘fine dining in the international tradition but with meatless recipes and vegan alternatives rarely available in restaurants, anywhere’.
WHERE? Tucked away on Erskine Road: if you know Primrose Hill, it’s round the corner from the Post Office and Lemonia, opposite the mews that leads down to Triyoga.
VIBE? Low-key, slightly (and presumably unintentionally) beachy, with piped 80s pop playing. Entry is through a shallow conservatory fronting onto the pavement, wide enough for several tables but separate from the body of the restaurant. All of this adds up to the quirky charm you might expect of a 47 year-old Primrose Hill vegan.
FOOD? For me, a joy. I am allergic to egg, an ingredient that turns up erratically in all sorts of unexpected places, so eating out usually involves discussions with the waiter over what I can eat, and, more to the point, a degree of trust in what they tell me. Egg-related mishaps abound, believe you me. So at Manna, knowing that I had free run of the egg-free menu, I tucked in with abandon and between four of us we chose a broad range from the menu.
The day’s specials were gazpacho with sorbet – icy-cold and tasting of garlic and tomato in exactly the right measure – and a roast, as it was Sunday, consisting of a nut bake, lentil gravy, new potatoes and carrots. I tasted it and enjoyed its mellow richness; the person who ordered it found it slightly dull, particularly having seen the spicier alternatives. Others in our little group chose bean sliders followed by a ‘Baja California plate,’ wolfed with delight despite the presence of the dreaded veggie staple tofu; and nachos followed by creamy tomato pasta, which was proclaimed delicious.
I chose a raw lasagne to start, which was crunchy, fresh and true to its description as ‘layers of courgette noodles, cashew cheese, rocket pesto & our special raw marinara sauce’; and a Lebanese mezze platter, which was felafel with three tangy dips and plenty of wholemeal pitta: delicious but too filling to finish.
We just about had room to attempt a fruit salad with lemon sorbet – seasonal and refreshing – and the day’s rhubarb and ginger cheesecake, which was prettily presented and hugely exciting for me as cheesecakes are usually egg-ridden and therefore strictly out of bounds. Welcome to my world.
DRINK? My wine-chooser-in-chief suggested Champagne. One of the rules I live by is never to refuse a glass of bubbles, and this usually serves me well, but in this instance our half-bottle of Jean-Pierre Fleury wasn’t quite cold enough and wasn’t quite good enough to justify what I later discovered to be a £43 price-tag. The whole bottle would set you back £85. With dessert I had a glass of ‘stellar heaven on earth sweet muscut (sic)’ which again wasn’t chilled, but otherwise tasted as it should have. My hunch is that Manna might be better at mixing cocktails than serving wine.
SERVICE? Charming. Very kind, likeable, gentle staff, which is partly why we put up with the disappointing champagne.
HOW MUCH? Quite a lot, actually, especially considering that there was no meat: £171 for four of us. Included in that total was £19 they had added for service.
WOULD WE GO BACK? Yes, like a shot, but next time I’m choosing the drinks.
MANNA: 4 Erskine Road, Primrose Hill, London NW3 3AJ.
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