Manteca, named after a word meaning lard, opened in January 2022, following a four-month pop-up stage in Mayfair in 2019. It describes itself as a nose to tail Italian, doing its own butchery of whole animal carcasses. Pasta is also hand-rolled in the kitchen here. Chef Chris Leach has previously worked at Petersham Nurseries and PittCue. His co-founder David Carter had previously worked at Smokestak.
The ground floor dining room has tightly packed small tables and lots of hard surfaces that contribute to a noisy environment. Even on this weekday lunch we could barely hear each other or our waitress, despite being in close proximity. Downstairs is further seating and also a large display of charcuterie in a cabinet.
The wine list was not on-line for some reason but was quite extensive. Sample labels were Heimann & Fiai Kadarka Szekszard, 2021 at £43 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for £18, Dalamara Paliokalias Xinomavro 2020 at £57 compared to its retail price of £51, and at Azul e Herroe 2020 at £77 for a bottle that will set you back £39 in a shop. There were some posher options too, such as Tenuta dei Sette Cieli Scipio Toscana IGT 2016 at £187 compared to its retail price of £98, and Roberto Voerzio Cerequio Barolo 2015 at £358 for a wine whose current market value is £247.
Fennel salami is made from scratch here, amongst other cured meats, and was very enjoyable. It had good texture and a cleaner taste than some salami (14/20). Focaccia was quite good, drizzled liberally with olive oil. It could have been lighter and airier in texture but was certainly nice. Fried ciccioli was essentially a pork shoulder terrine, served with apple mustard. The meat had plenty of flavour and the bite of the mustard and the acidity of the apple nicely balanced the richness of the meat (14/20). Pork sausage was also made from scratch here, served with peperonata (stewed onions, peppers and tomato). The sausage was excellent, being well seasoned and with plenty of meat flavour (14/20).
Fazzoletti (aka handkerchief) pasta is a Ligurian pasta that, as its name suggests, appears in sheets. This was cooked with duck ragu and duck fat pangrattato (bread crumbs). The pasta itself was freshly made and had good texture but the duck ragu was rather ordinary, lacking the depth of flavour that I was hoping for. A little additional seasoning would also not have gone amiss, though the breadcrumbs provided an interesting extra texture (13/20). Similarly, pork and fennel ragu had nicely made pasta but a rather bland ragu that lacked enough depth of flavour (13/20). Grilled greens with salsa rossa (tomato and red bell pepper sauce) had pleasantly lively salsa rossa, but the greens were undercooked to the point of being almost raw. I am all for al dente vegetables, but these needed some more cooking (barely 12/20).
Zeppole (fried dough balls) were flavoured with raspberry cream, sugar and fennel. These were pleasant enough, though perhaps a little more fruit would have given more balance. The chefs here seem to love fennel since it popped up a lot, but this was perhaps one dish that it could have been skipped for (13/20). I was looking forward to zabaglione with red fruit and certainly the mixed summer berries were nice. The zabaglione itself was served cold and lacked sufficient marsala. For a dish with three ingredients, zabaglione is quite tricky to get right, but although the egg yolks and sugar were in decent enough balance there was a definite lack of alcoholic punch from the marsala in this version (13/20). Coffee was from Climpsons, one of the better London speciality coffee roasters.
The bill came to £60 per person for three courses and a little wine. Overall Manteca was a very pleasant experience, with good charcuterie and well-made pasta. There are a number of things that could be tweaked, such as the ragu and also the acoustics of the dining room, which even at this weekday lunch felt like eating in a nightclub. It is, though, good to see a place making an effort to using all the parts of an animal carcass, rather than just buying in prepared portions, which happens in London more than many people realize. Manteca is certainly doing well commercially, but for me there were rather too many dishes that needed some more work.