What's the story?
Nose-to-tail Italian cooking, from every London pasta-lover's chef crush (and co-founder) Chris Leach. In-house meat-curing. Hand-rolled pasta. Cuts of meat cooked over a wood fire.
Manteca's a collab — the lovechild of Smokestak founder David Carter, and Leach, ex-Pitt Cue. Both know their way around a flame, basically. Manteca was a residency first, then a temporary lease in Soho — long enough to create a loud buzz and a wait for reservations that often runs six weeks deep ahead of it arriving in Shoreditch.
What's the vibe?
Crowded, but in a low-hustle way. Both times we've been we shut the restaurant down, and both times didn't have any sense of urgency to get us out from the staff. Service is very friendly and utterly unceremonious, and the buzz is the exact right level to feel like you're at the relaxed epicentre of a very good party.
Been twice now, the first time involving booking six weeks in advance for late night on a Wednesday, and it was still, somehow, worth the effort and the wait. The second time we managed to book short notice, and be scraping up every last fragment of duck fazzoletti two hours later: the moral is that whenever you want to be eating something glorious and you don't have a plan, you should probably just always try to be at Manteca and sometimes it'll work out for you.
What's on the menu?
Highlights: pig skin ragù, with a big leaf of salty crackling for scooping it with. Rich with porkiness, sweet with tomatoes — but, like, the very deep, generous sweetness you get from tomatoes when you're on holiday in the Med and then spend weeks trying to unsuccessfully recreate at home in the UK — and fattily salty with a carpet of parmesan, it comes as a little fist-sized bowl that we looked at sceptically and then genuinely struggled to finish between four.
We'd find it hard not to repeat order the beef battuta every visit (tartare-esque raw meat, laced with dandelion, comes with paper-thin crispbread), the fire-cooked cuts of meat, or the miso-roasted cabbage, studded with pancetta. Okay, and the chocolate and salt caramel torte.
But the pasta: next level. Regularly changing menu, but the brown crab cacio e pepe is ridiculously, silkily rich, crabby, and beautiful; the rigatoni with kale and garlic, which we order mostly just to be completist and to show we're not actually frightened of vegetables, is a surprising, instant favourite, and the duck ragù fazzoletti — little scattering of duck fat pangrattato — is one we're still thinking about weeks later. The wine list's gorgeous in a nonchalant, unformulaic way — small-batch pet nats jostling with Italian greatest hits — and there's an amaro-focused cocktail list.
Not bad, for food this great — and this rich. Not cheap your-nonna's-kitchen homecooking, but imo more than twice as good as a lot of places you'd pay the same for, therefore, big picture: practically a saving?
£5 to £10 for starters, £14-ish for pasta dishes, £20 to £30 for secondi. The drinks list is where you could start to stack up a serious spend, with a punchy starting point of £30 for a bottle — and the lure of escalating things into the £50s and £60s very real.
Al fresco, delivery, takeaway?
Nope, on all fronts. Probably a good thing, because if we could get this delivered we might never leave the house/our nightwear again.
Pre-game and post-game?
If you want to go late, Dalston's your friend — a 20-minute walk or quick taxi ride. If you just want to smite yourself with pasta and meat and then get one nightcap somewhere nearby, there's Satan's Whiskers (1am on weekends) or the Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green (2am on weekends).
Londonist visited anonymously, and paid for our meals.