Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Manna

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People don’t like to hear the word “Christmas” in November but my diary definitely says that Christmas is approaching. I’ve been booked out for four dinners and a lunch this week. Usually this would be a source of great pleasure but unfortunately there was a problem: last Friday I cooked this recipe. Now, that in itself wouldn’t be a problem, although it was typically fiddily and atypically flavourless for an Ottolenghi recipe, except that it contained pine nuts. Again, not a problem, although they cost more than fillet steak these, except me and the missus fell victim to pine mouth. Oh no! I’d never heard of this before but it is very real and absolutely foul. It cleared up after a couple of days (possibly helped by an alpha lipoic acid supplement) but I won’t be eating pine nuts again in a hurry. Anyway, all that preamble is by way of saying my taste buds might be a bit messed up so treat this post with a pinch of salt.

I first went to Manna – Europe’s oldest vegetarian restaurant (alledgedly) – last year. That was before I started writing up my meals, although I did make a few notes. Unfortunately they read in their entirity: “I drank pineau for the first time. I’m not sure I’d recommend it, a bit sweet, but everything else was very nice.” So yeah, not exactly fulsome. Manna have kept me on their mailing list and last month they sent through a special Thanksgiving menu. Knowing an American who gets a bit homesick at this time of year, I thought this a good excuse for an outing.

So did a lot of other people. The earliest booking we could get was 9.15 and when we arrived the place was absolutely heaving and the staff were looking a little harried. Who knew a four course vegan Thanksgiving menu would be so popular? We started with a lovely pumpkin soup with some slightly over-salted rosemary foccacia. I associate Thanksgiving with turkey and butter and obviously neither put in an appearance but the soup was incredibly creamy and buttery for never having been near a cow. Some sort of special vegan alchemy.

Unfortunately this was followed by an unsuccesful salad of spinach, walnut and pomegrante. It was unsuccessful because this was alledgedly a wilted spinach salad but had clearly never been near a heat source, this was simply a pile of raw leaves. This might not even have been a problem except the quantities used were obviously for wilted spinach so we got a huge plate of spinach leaves with a wholely inadequate squiggle of dressing.

If that was a success and then a failure, the main course was a mix of the two. Roasted garlic mash performed that same buttery alchemy and stuffing was equally magical in its ability to conjure up meaty tones. I thought that the side of caramelized onions and green beans was the perfect accompaniment but N complained that by this time of the evening plating had gone right out the window and my portion was three times the size of her’s. That was minor compared to the fact the centrepiece of herbed tempeh roast was like eating a rusk though. It was served with a splash of delicious wild mushroom gravy but you would have needed a pint pot of the stuff to get through what was essentially the scrag end of a wholemeal loaf. To compound this problem, the whole design of the course drew attention to the fact it should have been meat.

Onto pudding and another problem but this time it was one all of my own making. I um-ed and ah-ed over apple pie and pumpkin cheesecake before eventually going for the former. Yum tum. Except I had forgotten I am allegic to all fruit (except bananas). You’d think I’d remember this but no. As I walked to the tube I found my throat swelling shut and my lips plumping up. A message from God to stop eating out so much?

£27 per head including a vodka and cranberry. We also had a bottle of indifferent prosecco for £22.

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Written by Martin

26 November 2010 at 10:34

Posted in food

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One Response

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  1. Y’know, I looked at that menu before reading the rest of your writeup, and thought, “Herbed tempeh roast? That won’t go well.”

    Tempeh is pretty tough to cook at the best of times– done poorly it’s AWFUL, nasty grainy lumps. The only ways I’ve really been able to stomach it were either super-heavily seasoned (very thinly sliced and doused in spices and liquid smoke to be sort of comparable to bacon, at least on a sandwich) or in tiny bits marinated for a long long time and fried until crispy, at which point they become crouton-like. Or marinated and then doused in sauce. I know tempeh is, I guess, good for you, but it’s really tough to get it edible.

    I can’t imagine why somebody would think a huge slab of tempeh would be a good idea. Even marinated, I have found tempeh to be too solid for the flavor to get very far inside it. That’s why I like it in little tiny bits…

    There are ways to make very satisfying Thanksgiving main courses without meat, but a huge tempeh “roast” wouldn’t be my first choice.

    Josh Brandt

    26 November 2010 at 17:44


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