Gastronomic trial and error in Essex, London and now Bristol.
Tuesday, 29 May 2012
Manna - Bristol
I’ve eaten at new Bristol restaurant Manna twice in recent weeks and both times it’s really impressed, so much so, that right now, I’d say it’s already edging into my first place choice for dinner in the city.
I say city, but it’s actually located just on the outskirts of the heaving Brizzle metropolis, in suburban Westbury Park, up beyond the crest of Whiteladies Road and partway into the vast green expanse of The Downs. This across the road offshoot of Italian parent restaurant, Prego, is serving a very interesting selection of Spanish influenced small plates, with an apparent emphasis on offal and cheaper, more interesting cuts.
Although ‘Spanish small plates’ throws up a mental image of tapas, this definitely isn’t. Think much more gutsy, substantial dishes, small main courses really, designed and priced for sharing. Throw in a selection of charcuterie and artisanal British cheeses and the menu shapes up rather nicely.
The restaurant itself has been nicely decorated, designed and fitted out with a definite eye for detail. It all looks very slick. I particularly like the diner style leather booths.
Saying that a chef has a fine pedigree makes them sound like a horse, but it must be noted that Manna’s chef has worked at some very good restaurants, including Moro, The Lido and Flinty Red. It’s probably not surprising then that the food is excellent.
Having eaten there on both occasions with compadres who like stuffing their faces just as much as ‘E’ and I, it’s fair to say that between the lot of us, we’ve given the menu a pretty good workout. Here’s a run through of most of what we ate over both visits.
A plate of chorizo from the charcuterie section was decent enough to pick at whilst sipping some Manzanilla, but it was the well made, paving slab thick, chunk of pork rillettes that really signified that we’d rolled across the start line towards gluttony. I signalled for more bread, with a ‘forward ho’ arm movement.
‘E’s Artichoke, Goats Curd, Hazelnuts and Sweet Herbs was reduced to a desultory green sprig in seconds. Forks flying in from every angle around the table. Despite such a fleeting taste, and me, on that occasion, being slightly sherry fuelled, I remember it being a lovely, light dish. The earthy flavour of the artichokes working well with the acidity of the goat’s curd.
Beautifully cooked, charcoal grilled squid, with an accompanying heap of fresh, sharp chopped salad was extremely good.
As was a pretty hefty portion of salt cod, potatoes and piquillo peppers.
But it was the rolled crispy pig’s head with sauce Gribiche (a classic French cold egg sauce, spiked with cornichon, capers, parsley, chervil and tarragon) that really caught my attention. Almost like slices of deep fried bath chap, the contrast of the hot, salty crunch of the pork against the piquant chill of the sauce was incredible.
A light, very simple, but nicely put together dish of Perroche (a soft goats curd cheese from Neals Yard Creamery in Herefordshire) with accompanying tomatoes and basil was stunning. Generously portioned, fresh tasting and perfectly judged for spring. I could have eaten another plate, easily.
Another standout dish was Veal Cheek cooked in Pedro Ximénez with Morcilla and crispy sage. Straining hard against the small plate boundary, this was a fair old sized plate of food. The veal perfectly cooked and easily pulled apart with a fork, atop a slice of bread to soak up the rich juices, with accompanying pucks of black pudding. At £10, really very good value for money.
Showing a lightness of touch, and a bit more subtlety, a dish of slow cooked rabbit with Butifarra (a type of Catalan sausage), peas and spring onion was immensely uber. Perfectly seasoned, the rich rabbit meat and sausage, in a clear broth with the fresh peas. It was bloody amazing basically. I mopped up the lot with bread.
Another light, yet superbly cooked dish next, almost rivalling the rabbit. Slow Baked Sea Trout with Tabbouleh, Yoghurt & Tahini Sauce. The fish, so soft and translucent it almost melted on the tongue, when eaten with forkfuls of the accompanying herb salad and yoghurt dressing was just phenomenal.
There are a couple of desserts on the menu. Simple but well made, nothing too fancy.
We shared a very good rhubarb tart priced at £3, which is probably the cheapest dessert I’ve seen on any menu for years.
And a bowl of rich chocolate mousse, studded with cherries soaked in rocket fuel and kirsch. Nice enough, but I couldn’t eat more than a couple of spoonfuls it was so rich. ‘E’ didn’t seem to have any trouble though.
It’s hard to believe that Manna has only been open barely a month. On both visits it was packed, the service was excellent and the kitchen was slinging amazing food out of the kitchen at a blistering pace. All very slick indeed.
On the second visit, three of us spanked the menu extremely hard, loads of dishes ordered, cheese, bottle of wine and glass of Manzanilla apiece. The bill was £40 each. Which I’d say is pretty bloody good value, especially when the cooking is this good.
I’d say Manna is pretty much doing everything right. The restaurant itself is pleasant and relaxed. The staff are very friendly and on the ball. The food is very good without trying too hard. Really nice, simple, well-cooked gutsy dishes and an interesting menu. Despite the small plates tag, I’d say it’s portioned for greedy bastardos like me to share happily within a group, probably with no arguments and subsequent punch ups. Which is always a bonus. And it’s not expensive.
Until recently Essex - Now 'on tour' in Bristol, United Kingdom
"I wouldn't call it so much a peek as a full blown expose of your innermost culinary pretentions and ambitions. You're effectively rolling over and exposing the soft paunch of your underbelly and asking to be caressed. You're a culinary whore!"