Manna at 50 is still peachy, not preachy
Much-loved Primrose Hill restaurant that absorbs influences from all over the world has been serving vegetarian and vegan food since 1967
16 November, 2017 — By Tom Moggach
Manna from Heaven: For vegans and vegetarians, it’s bliss on earth
IN the era of fake news, the influence of the media is a hot topic. But when it comes to food, one fact is certain: the media has stoked up a frenzy around all things vegan.
In just a few years, a vegan lifestyle has become the height of fashion. Celebrities flaunt their dairy-free credentials; my local coffee shop has banned cow’s milk; even McDonald’s is trialling a McVegan burger.
This phenomenon is a source of wry bemusement at Manna, a much-loved restaurant in Primrose Hill that’s been serving vegetarian and vegan food since 1967.
“We’ve just been what we are – a neighbourhood restaurant that just happens to vegetarian. I’ve never felt part of any strident movement,” explains Roger Swallow, one of the owners.
Manna is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Inevitably, it’s featured in this newspaper before. But this landmark provides the perfect excuse for another visit.
A faded menu from years past is framed on the stairs, promising nostalgic starters such as cream soup or melon and ginger. The website claims this is “Europe’s earliest plant-based establishment”.
We took a seat inside, by the window – although the tables in the outer conservatory-style alcove look especially cosy.
The menu has evolved since those early days, absorbing influences from all over the world.
There’s soba noodle salad, tacos and tempura. Croquettes are filled with cashew nut cheese; meatballs have morphed into “veatballs”; their meat-free sausages are spiked with fennel and pumpkin seeds.
Of our starters, a squash soup was unremarkable. (“Crying out for cumin,” said my guest).
Raw tacos were splendid: sprightly leaves of Little Gem loaded with grated carrot, beetroot, guacamole, a sunflower seed “chorizo” and finished with a zigzag of cashew nut cream.
As a main course, the Caribbean platter was an epic plate of food. In fact, the generous portion sizes here are a further cause for celebration.
This dish starred a tofu and plantain kebab marinated in jerk spices, then served with a bowl of bean stew and aromatic coconut rice. The zippy salsa was insanely moreish: a mix of pineapple and ackee fruit laced with chilli.
The panzanella salad was also very good – especially if you enjoy raw kale – with a clever balance of textures and crisp ribbons of invigorating pickled carrot.
For pudding, my friend declared her “raw chocolate orange timbale” to be heavy going, with a grainy mouthfeel.
My sticky toffee was excellent, with light airy sponge and oozy thick caramel.
For vegans and vegetarians, Manna is bliss on earth. But it’s also a stylish and warm place to eat out, whatever your preferred diet. The food is highly imaginative. But most importantly, the ethos is not at all preachy.
Prices are fair, with a three-course dinner costing around £30 before drinks and service. At lunchtimes, there’s a special £11 deal.
Personally, I didn’t miss the meat for a moment. Although I did sneak a chunk of Cheddar when I got home.
4 Erskine Road, NW3
020 7722 8028