EATING OUT: Review of Manna by Mark Taylor
Steamy windows, a packed dining room awash with chat and laughter and a backdrop of bouncy ragtime and jazz – there was a genuine air of bonhomie at this Westbury Park bar and restaurant on Friday night.
Manna is run by the same team as the popular Prego Italian restaurant opposite, but whilst Prego is more family friendly with pizzas and pasta among its excellent offering, Manna is resolutely more foodie.
Dishes like goat's curd bruschetta with roasted rose garlic and slow-cooked red onion and thyme or veal liver with pearl barley, king oyster mushrooms and cumin yoghurt may be aimed at the more hardcore food lover, but there is plenty of choice for more conservative tastes.
I could have happily stuck a pin in the menu blindfolded and still been happy with my choices, such is the quality of the food here.
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Among the dishes I didn't get a chance to sample, there was a salad of fennel, chicory, blood orange and radish, slow-cooked Cornish octopus with piquillo peppers, and charcoal-grilled marinated lamb chops with homemade yoghurt and harissa. There wasn't a bad dish on there.
The chef responsible for this roll call of gastronomic delights is Sam Sohn-Rethel, who cut his teeth at London's hugely influential Moro restaurant before heading to Bristol, where his CV has included The Lido and Flinty Red. His food is fiercely seasonal and highly intelligent and I think he is one of the most gifted chefs working in the city today.
Service at Manna is fast and furious and dishes might overlap and arrive before others finish, much as they might in a tapas bar.
I kicked off with a small bowl of cauliflower cooked slowly in yoghurt with pine nuts, coriander and caramelised butter. On paper, it sounded a humble dish, but it was a revelation – the tiny florets of cauliflower retaining their bite but the earthy sweetness of the vegetable lifted by the creamy, nutty sauce.
Next up, three perfectly cooked seared Cornish scallops (£7) with their roes still intact (a rare pleasure) arrived on a crimson-hued mound of creamy beetroot purée flavoured with cardamom and dusted with sumac.
If I were to be hypercritical about the main course of veal cheek slow-cooked in Pedro Ximenez sherry (£10), it would be that the dark, rich sauce was half a notch too sweet, especially with the accompanying parsnip purée, but I'm splitting hairs because the meat was so tender it would have collapsed had I blown on it and the slice of morcilla on top was sublime.
To finish, poached new- season rhubarb with rosewater cream and meringue (£5.50) was light and fragrant, the addition of pomegranate seeds and crushed pistachios on top inspired.