London’s fresh pasta wave, which might be more accurately described as a sort of tsunami of slow-simmered ragu, is not stopping any time soon.
In fact, it feels like the gratefully received new gastronomic norm; a strange, satisfying world where even people who can barely poach an egg feel emboldened enough to hold forth on correct al dente cooking with the sage authority of a wizened nonna.
When a friend recently told me that she was evacuated from Padella during last year’s London Bridge terror attack — and that her fear as she fled an unfolding tragedy was very slightly laced with regret that she couldn’t finish her crab tagliarini — it felt like both extremely relatable London behaviour and a mark of how this domestic Italian foodstuff has permeated every inch of our lives.
Which brings us to Manteca, the Soho restaurant that is the new permanent iteration of Chris Leach and David Carter’s thunderously popular autumn residency at 10 Heddon Street. To say that it is a faithfully rendered hand-rolled pasta place (with an additional focus on nose-to-tail cuts of meat) is accurate but also, perhaps, doesn’t quite convey the correct level of excitement and specialness. Because, whether he is cooking masterful Italian starch, sizzled cuts of meat or snacks fried to a tactile, greaseless crisp, Leach has a sorcerer’s way with flavour. And everything around him — capable, beaming staff, approachable vibe, sanely priced wines and bracing Amaro cocktails — has a sure-footedness that is rarer than it should be.
Part of this is the quiet, unobtrusive confidence of the room. Arriving for lunch on a Friday with my mate Jonny, we found a long, navy-painted oblong of a space, lined by cascading plants and with the low burble of carefully chosen hip-hop and soul in the background. It was steadily busy too, thick with a few suited work lunches, one or two hastily parked prams and a group of tourist girls taking flat-lay Instagram shots with the sort of unembarrassed rigour I can never muster.
There were squares of terrific focaccia and piles of soft, pink folds of gently whiffy, house-made mortadella while we looked at the menu — and I’d say, if you’re a meat-eater, it’s a non-negotiable on-ramp to the meal. But then, I want to say that about the plump, saveloy-red duck sausage and the breaded, luscious block of pig head friti too. And then, of course, there’s the certifiably legendary pink fir potatoes with smoked cod roe: cragged, golden nuggets of uncut pleasure and sweet vindication for lifelong taramasalata ultras.
I wasn’t personally as mad about the pumpkin cappellacci pasta: beautifully made, generously filled handbag parcels beneath a heaping of cheese, brown butter and crushed hazelnut amaretti that perhaps played an overly familiar tune of autumnal sweetness. But Jonny’s tonnarelli brown crab cacio e pepe — tangled strands in a silken, insistently rich, sunset yellow sauce — was the sort of thing to make you want to twang off a diving board and leap in.
And, well, you get it now, don’t you? There’s barely room for me to mention the succulent, smoky tyre of pork belly (which made a guy at the next table justifiably go a bit Sid James), the beautifully short and crumbly rhubarb tart, or the sticky toffee-ish date and prune pudding, but you get a sense of the subtle genius here; the bangers-only approach to the snappy, ever-evolving menu.
Manteca began life as something that was impermanent by design, but it already feels like a cherishable part of the Soho furniture; an instant classic with an approach to food and hospitality that, even if fresh pasta fatigue ever sets in, is hopefully built to last.
1 Focaccia £2.50
1 Mortadella £5.50
1 Pink fir potatoes £7.50
1 Pig head friti £5.50
1 Duck sausage £7
1 Tonnarelli £8.50
1 Cappellacci £9
1 Pork belly £16
1 Rhubarb tart £6
1 Date cake £6
1 Mint and lemonade £2.80
2 Lime and orange sodas £5.60
58-59 Great Marlborough Street, Soho, W1 (020 3827 9740; mantecarestaurant.co.uk)