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Guest review: Manna

I am a bad vegan. In all of my time in London, I have never made the effort to drag my ample frame to Manna in Primrose Hill.

What? You don’t know what Manna is?! It’s a good thing my friend Julie Hamill took a recent excursion to this world-famous vegan restaurant and has dropped by to tell you all about it. You would have been waiting an awfully-long time if you were depending on me getting there.

Visit Julie online to read some of here fabulous Morrissey-related interviews and of course follow her on Twitter where she runs the weekly MozArmy quiz… that’s right, a weekly Twitter quiz about Morrissey.

Tell us about Manna, Julie.

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Manna’s not a banger

by Julie Hamill

I’m a vegetarian – not a vegan – but I appreciate and enjoy tasty vegan food, which forms part of the weekly menu in our house.  I’m sure, like many other veggies and vegans, part of my enjoyment of food lies in discovering something new that I haven’t eaten before.  I love going to new places, finding ideas, flavours and combinations, trying tasty morsels and generally talking about what folk eat, particularly if it is potato-based.

So when my Mr says ‘I’ve booked us a table at Manna’ I was as excited as a schoolgirl with an empty dinner tray at midday.  My imagination was running wild with possibilities and un-tapped flavours of a completely vegan restaurant, not just any old vegan restaurant, but the one that everyone loves!  The one that the celebrities go to!  The longest established vegan restaurant in London!  Oh the knowledge I could glean from these plates of beauty!

We arrived too early for the booking, so wandered round the corner to The Queens pub for a V&T.  In true Primrose Hill style, Harry Styles from One Direction was outside the pub with Nick Grimshaw. Grimmie was only too pleased to encourage Harry’s love of ‘old ladies’ as I stopped for a quick pic with his puppy face before heading to the restaurant.

Julie & Harry

I consulted @Quarrygirl on twitter about what to order before the meal, and she raved about the bangers n mash.  I wanted to listen to her, I really did, but I saw the spaghetti and veatballs on the menu and there was a bottle of very very nice red on the table (a 5/5 red) and it just seemed right.  I was in a spaghetti mood, you know?  I should have listened to her.

Red wine

Our waitress was lovely and chatty, telling us that Geri Halliwell and Russell Brand had been in the night before (eating the bangers n mash I expect) as she brought our courses.

I started with the basil & cashew cheese croquettes (‘served on a bed of watercress & pea sprouts with home made chilli jam’).  They were absolutely delicious, lovely creamy smooth filling and crispy orange outside.  In fact, the colour and consistency reminded me (of a much better version) of Findus crispy pancakes, and accompanied with the lush red wine I was in hazy 70s heaven.  5/5 – would definitely eat again.

Rated highly

The Mister ordered the Indonesian satay (‘baked marinated bean curd skewer, served with chinese coleslaw topped with a nest of crisp noodles’).  For some reason, we both expected this to be hot and crispy with lashings of peanut sauce  (must have missed the word ‘baked’).  It arrived like a thick slice of cold rubber on a plate.  He ate it, albeit, irk-edly, but another glass of glorious wine made it all better.  1/5 – cold, rubbery, tasteless, dry, overpromise.  The 1 is for presentation.

Satay dish

Next up the main courses:  I ordered, knowing it was wrong, and hearing QG in my head, the organic spaghetti and veatballs (‘our specialty and new favourite!’).  Oh God, I’m sorry Manna, but it was horrible.  They brought me yeast flakes to sprinkle over the top and add flavour, but it reminded me of the ‘small animal bedding’ we use for the guinea pig.  The spaghetti was very thick and hard, the sauce had no flavour and the veatballs were like eating balls of sawdust.  0/5.

Veatballs

The Mister ordered the Mediterranean platter (‘sesame falafel, quinoa tabouleh, harissa, lemon tahini, manna’s homemade hummus, green salad, served with grilled pita’) which he described as ‘flavourless’.  What a shame!  I really wanted him to have a great main meal (because I knew straight away that I needed to return to taste the bangers and mash) but I knew then that our fate was decided.  We would not be returning as a couple. 0/5.

Platter

Thank goodness for lemon cheesecake!  Light, fluffy, full of sweet lemony flavour, very moreish.  Sadly the ginger vice cream had great chunks of hard ginger in it which jarred with the consistency. 4/5.

Cheesecake

The Mister got the raw chocolate and maca brownie (‘sugar free, served with macerated vanilla cherries & raw coconut vice cream’).  He put his spoon in it and it kind of crumbled apart on the plate.  No.  He didn’t like it.  But the vice cream was nice. 2/5 for nice vice.

Brownie

So what of Manna?  We left as full as a friend said we would, but we couldn’t help feel that we had just been in a production of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, surrounded by diners tucking in and raving about flavour, while we looked on, puzzled.   Did we order the wrong thing?  Shouldn’t everything be delicious?  It is a great restaurant in terms of atmosphere, ambiance, service, wonderful vegan wine selection and ambitious creativity with the food, but veggie or vegan, I know what good flavour and texture is, and sadly it wasn’t in some of what Manna had to offer.

But I’ll still go back for the bangers and mash.  Table for one?

Visit Manna online

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Written by fatgayvegan

20 Comments
  1. I’m astounded that this blog which, I believe, strives to be the authoritative source for vegan news and reviews in London would post such an awful piece of writing. Sorry, but your “author” is wholly unqualified to write such a negative review of Manna. What’s her experience with writing (other than awful Morrissey fan-fiction?), and food writing in particular? Perhaps some heavy cream, cheese and eggs would have delivered a meal more to her liking.

    Get up of your fat, gay vegan ass, FGV, and go to Manna post-haste. Right this wrong! You know it makes sense.

    • I can’t believe I just read that comment. This is possibly the most reasonable negative review I’ve ever read of anything. She didn’t like the food, and she is perfectly entitled to say so as politely as is possible in these situations, which turns out to be very politely indeed. Do you prefer reviews by snooty, elitist journalists whose relationship with food bears no resemblance to how the vast majority of every day people enjoy it?

      I can only assume you work for Manna.

  2. If the author has taste buds and has tried food at the place she’s reviewing that makes her qualified to write a review. It’s also far from wholly negative and definitely wouldn’t put me off visiting Manna if I were in London and had the cash to eat out.

  3. Manna has been up and down a bit over the years. It had an excellent phase for a while when it went from vegetarian to vegan, but over the last couple of years has run itself into the ground. The menu never changes any more (hence the poor satay I suspect, which once was superb but during my recent trip seemed like they had got thoroughly bored of making it), and the deserts which used to be the best in London are now a joke. I had an expensive banana split there which was made with lots of Swedish Glacé ice-cream (despite their making their own ice-cream for other deserts) and squirty cream from a can. The sort of thing which could have been done better at home. The waiting staff also seem to be less experienced these days than formerly and the manager we’ve met a couple of times hasn’t impressed us. I’m afraid I can’t recommend Manna any more, but the upside is that we now have Amico Bio, which makes up for the loss beautifully!

  4. Wow, Teddy is so rude – I think he should apologise. There’s nothing wrong with Julie’s writing and what has her ability to write got to do with whether she likes a restaurant’s food or not anyway? I found her review balanced and well-written, she obviously wanted to like Manna but came away disappointed but willing to go back – can’t say fairer than that.

    Thanks Julie, for your review!

  5. Teddy I believe the word you wanted was ‘off’ not ‘of’…….. And you think you have the right to judge someone’s writing ability? #wholookssillynow

  6. I’ve eaten at Manna plenty of times and think this review is pretty fair. I hated the spaghetti and veatballs; it tasted like something from a tin – but I’ve also had some really good stuff there too.

  7. unfortunately, I have to say this review is completely fair. They lack consistency; you might have a good experience, but quite soften not. I worked for Manna as a chef for a couple of years so I have some experience here I would say. I obviously tried all the dishes and left in then end as I thought the cooking not up to scratch and wasn’t in control of the menu and what we were told to cook. I think Teddy must indeed work for Manna, lets hope with that attitude he’s not front of house!

  8. I love Manna. It’s my favourite restaurant in London. Possibly my favourite restaurant *anywhere*. And those croquettes are amazing…

    But they change the menu regularly – meaning that I haven’t tried the other dishes that the reviewers tried. (Last time I went, I had toasted ravioli – which was even better than the croquettes!) So while I’ve never had a bad experience there myself (in approximately 15 years) it is of course possible that they had an off-night, or that the latest menu isn’t up to their usual standard.

    Very surprised to see Amico Bio being suggested as a potential replacement though! While I’ve enjoyed their food on a number of occasions, I don’t think it comes close – in terms of quality, quantity, or service. But I guess that just shows that everyone has their own tastes. And that every restaurant has its good nights and its bad nights.

    So while I’m sure this review reflect the author’s experience, it won’t put me off returning to Manna. And it shouldn’t put you off either…

  9. I had a negative experience at Manna recently. The food was good enough although the satay was a bit disappointing. The service however was probably the worst I’ve had for quite some time, we were basically ignored, no one came over to us after half an hour of sitting we had to call as waiter over to get a drink. Then again to order food. And we had to ask for the specials every other customer got told when they were sat.. It was a hot day and we were sat at the back of the restaurant where it was so hot I felt physically sick.. When I mentioned this to the waitress she just said the air con had broken and not been fixed for weeks. I couldn’t eat a thing even though I really wanted to. I couldn’t enjoy it and I really didn’t enjoy paying a service charge for rubbish service. Took them half an hour to clear our plates. I work in hospitality and I know for a fact that if I delivered service that bad I’d probably be sacked. I really wanted to enjoy my dinner but they really need to teach staff about customer service and table maintenance.

  10. I haven’t visited Manna for a while and, reading the review and comments, I don’t think I’ll hurry back! I’ll stick to Inspiral 🙂

  11. I visited Manna last week, my fourth time in the last 2 years. It is pricier than I would like, but for a treat my meat-eating boyfriend doesn’t mind going.

    I had the Manna mezze, choosing the cashew cheese cubes (delicious as the reviewer said), the satay (disappointing as the reviewer said; cold tofu, little peanutty flavour) and the corn and courgette fritters (decent but nothing special).

    Boyfriend had the spaghetti and veatballs for the second time, and he ate it all and said he enjoyed it. It is clearly a popular dish as lots of other people had it too. It looked like it had lots of fresh ingredients, though I personally rate my own spag&balls too much to order it from a restaurant…

    I must agree that Manna is unpredictable; I had a disappointing tagine there before, but the ravioli mentioned by a previous reviewer was wonderful. The bangers and mash look fab to me and I’d love to try them sometime. The salads they make are also huge and if I’m ever feeling reallllly good I’d like to try one!

    They do change the menu seasonally though they keep some core dishes which are their “specialities” according to them. The service can vary; last time a long haired man was our waiter. He was incredibly amiable but unfortunately over-stretched as there didn’t seem to be enough staff and there were several demanding tables nearby…

    One thing I highly recommend there is the strawberry coconut twister – delicious beverage, possibly the best vegan milkshake ever.

    If anyone wants to see more of what I’ve eaten at Manna in the past, there are pictures on my Tumblr here: http://herbivoracity.tumblr.com/search/manna

    I think it’s worth a few visits to find what you like, and definitely listen to the recommendation of others since it seems like we’re mostly on the same page.

  12. I really love Manna but some while ago decided I prefer their starters and found the mains disappointing so I now always order the mezze (three starters of your choice as a main). The starters really are superb and the desserts are great too, I usually avoid cheesecakes unless I’m at the home of great cake inSpiral but at Manna in my opinion the cheesecakes are actually better than inSprial.

    I too have found the service can be a bit patchy, in my experience after you’ve been given starters and mains it sometimes it takes a while to get the staff back so you can order a dessert and then again to get the bill but the food makes that worth it to me. Julie ordered the best wine in my opinion!

    Chris Gomez I have eaten at Amico Bio only once once but was with a group and tried several dishes which were all only so so. I have not been tempted to go back so like Robb I am surprised to see it touted as equivalent to or better than Manna. They had no vegan desserts at that time (is this still the case?)

    • I don’t think ‘touted’ is a fair description. Like Robb said, each to their own. My experiences there have all been far better than my recent experiences at Manna. The food is a different style – simple rather than fancy. I prefer it to Manna’s tired dishes. I agree that the lack of vegan desserts are a shame (and have mentioned it several times). The Affogato (espresso over their homemade ice-cream) is a lovely end to a meal their though, and once they whipped up some vegan sauce to replace the version they were serving over their otherwise-vegan fritters.

      I also agree with Joanna about Manna’s twisters, btw. Delicious.

      • Gah – I mean “meal there”, of course!

  13. Does everyone commenting here live in London? I believe there is better vegan food to be had in your city than manna. I live in Los Angeles and I have to say, I found it disappointing. After hearing rave reviews from LA friends who told me “you have to go there when you go to London!” I was not wowed. Maybe cos I’m used to all the great vegan food options I have where I live and in nearby San Francisco? I don’t say that to brag, just show what my tastebuds are used to.. To be honest I felt like it was overpriced and not that impressive. The basil- cheese croquettes had what seemed to be bottled sweet chili sauce, The kind u get in LA with spring rolls. They could’ve used something fancier & more refined, that made the dish kinda a bummer to me. The bangers and mash was nice and tasted homemade and like they actually tasted & salted it properly, but the dessert menu was underwhelming & considering how much it already was for a starter & a main I didn’t get one..and I didn’t get dessert cos I thought I might be bummed on it as well. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to go there if they were going to London from LA, or that Amico bio place. I went to mildred’s 3 times while in London, so I’d recommend that place. I read this review ( and I JUST went there 2 weeks ago, mind you) and thought, yeah, she’s pretty right on. The area is pretty & inside is nice, but that won’t get me to go back.

  14. I love Manna, mainly for being one of the few fully vegan multi-cuisine restaurants.

    My first experience there blew me away – I was so impressed, especially with the white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake: heaven! So I couldn’t wait to go back. I was a little bit disappointed with the dessert menu the following time, having had the cheesecake experience. For some reason they had removed the chocolatey options. But my starter

  15. was delicious: cashew cheese and walnut tart with a balsamic reduction – true high-class restaurant food.

    Each time I have been, I have had the bangers and mash because nothing else on the mains tickled my fancy. I thoroughly enjoy the dish but it would be nice to have a change.

    Last time I went, I had the satay skewers which I didn’t find cold, rubbery nor tasteless. Some people just have an aversion to tofu. I liked it.

    However, I was not so impressed by the brownie, which was way too chewy and not very chocolatey in my opinion.

    The strawberry milkshake more than made up for it though!

  16. We went to Manna last Sunday for my birthday and I, like the author, was VERY EXCITED. Had a lovely time but that was largely down to the brilliant company, not the food. I liked the cheesy croquettes too, but overall it was rather ‘meh’. Even my in-laws who have rather conservative tastes when it comes to spices and seasoning (their cooking can actually remove all taste from lentils, I swear), said their food lacked flavour. I agree that the lemon cheesecake was the winning bit of my meal, and the waitress kindly put a birthday candle on it and wrote ‘happy birthday’ in chocolate sauce around the plate. That was sweet.

    I tasted everyone’s food at the table and nothing really wowed me. It lacked punch and originality.

    In my opinion, the saddest food possible is a promising-looking chocolate brownie that tastes of disappointment. It’s meant to be the grand, indulgent ‘fuck yeah!’ finale to your meal. They could’ve easily got the best vegan chocolate brownie recipe (again, IMHO) from the Sweet Vegan cookbook.

    So it’s a bit of a shame to say I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant, yet I hope they take the criticism on board to improve their food.

  17. I don’t want to sound too down on the place though and think I should add that I would recommend their milkshakes and the Manna Mint Magic drink. And I also think it would be fair for me to say I thought staff were friendly, efficient and very understanding when our friends turned up half an hour late.

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