Mon. Jan 24th, 2022


I was led by the nose to Manteca. Not my own nose, you understand, but a stuffed pork snout, beautifully glazed, fire-fried, finely placed on a plate and spread across the internet. A type of port drug after nose-to-tail cooking and probably the most ‘grammable dish of 2021. I arrived at this posh, new, bare oak-and-white-brick sanctuary to modern Italian, struggled as far as the bar, and demanded the snout in a loud voice.

“Sorry. We’re getting them ready, but there’s not tonight. ” I so wanted to let my tongue slip into his nostril and allowed anticipation to build up to a dangerously explosive level. But I’m not a man to harbor resentment.

I satisfied with fairly good grace for the homemade mortadella. It arrived quickly, draped across the board like “The Death of Chatterton” performed in charcuterie. They cut it as thin as lace. Nothing like the rubbery flaps you might buy in a supermarket.

It was soft, almost muddy, with small air bubbles. Belug. Kind of sparkling spam. Also, it’s fair to say, a pretty good comfort price when you can not get a snout.

It looked lonely, so I bought it some puntarelle alla Romana. It is a salad vegetable on the chicory / celery spectrum that is shredded, soaked and then smeared with oil, garlic, anchovies and chilli, tossed like sauce. Nothing prepares a tongue trained in Northern Europe for that kind of robbery. This is absolutely outrageous. The vegetable element is fresh and light, but let’s face it, just a phenomenal transfer vector for garlic breath.

In a weak attempt to kettle my stomach back into my pants, I have not eaten bread since Second Christmas Day, so I confess my judgment may have been skewed, but it seemed to me that a small pillow of fresh flatbread might not be catastrophic is not. It looked like one of those science project volcanoes. Higher than one would expect, with a roughly tuned caldera, overflowing with a hot magma cream and chopped mussels. I know, right? Cream and mussels. It tasted like the reason why, something like 4,000 years ago, Neolithic people invented bread. Maybe it was some ingenuity on the part of the chef to put it on greaseproof paper. I wanted the fat. I should have packed a funnel.

There was pork head fritti, like a paneed and deep-fried pork face Mars bar, served with citrus-clad celery leaves and pilacca hot sauce to cut the richness – a half-hearted attempt that failed brilliantly. I noticed the second time the board hit the bar, bursting with boiling, greasy, cartilaginous effusions and a sure ticket to the Greed Ward.

As I became uncalibrated and brutal in my public pork cravings, the chef intervened with tortellini in brodo rather than a full pasta course, which would have seen me roll out of the building on a gurney. In a small earthenware bowl, a straw of handmade pasta cloves (look it up) in a sauce so pure yet complex that I will return to Manteca when I am near death so I can be healed.

Tortellini in sauce

Tortellini in sauce © Scott Grummett

I grabbed deep in my soul for the power to pack a main course and still believe I was wise to do so. It was not just the Creedy Carver duck breast, scorched on point and served with a fennel sausage made from the remains of the creature, it was the gravy – just concentrated enough and lined with shallots to counteract the flesh. I have also never experienced cherries. It looks like a Jerusalem artichoke, toasted into a spreadable pasta and is so unexpectedly sweet that it attracts the rich meat as convincingly as a redcurrant jelly.

There were nice desserts, but the affogato allo zabaglione drew me. The young bartender thought it was the tastiest thing on the menu. However, I remembered the restaurant I went to on that first, rainy night I arrived in London. If you’re old enough to remember the Pollo Bar in Old Compton Street, you may also remember that you finished with a savage pre-wave espresso and “zabaglione” made from beaten egg and marsala under the steaming rod of the coffee machine to cook. I wandered into the Shoreditch night, full of joy, satiety and nostalgia.

I’m going back for the snout.

Manteca

49-51 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3PT; 020 7033 6642; mantecarestaurant.co.uk

Beginners: £ 6- £ 12
Main network: £ 11.50- £ 45

Follow Tim on Twitter @TimHayward and email him at tim.hayward@ft.com

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