A vegetarian heaven

MANNA 4 Erskine Road, Primrose Hill, NW3 020 7722 8028

BEING a vegetarian is not as difficult as it used to be.

Once upon a time, my dietary demands would be met with a school dinner lady’s scowl – and a plate of nothing but grated cheese.

Yet even in this veggie-friendly age, my kind are all too often given a raw deal when venturing out to dinner.

It’s still common to find a solitary meat-free main course, two at a push, which just feel like an afterthought.

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And jokes such as “we love vegetarians – all our chickens are vegetarian”, as a popular Portuguese chain’s menu proclaims, really do not help matters.

On the other hand, vegetarian restaurants are often cheap and cheerful affairs, with a hippy vibe, table sharing and a buffet of mainly cold food.

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There is nothing wrong with that – but it leaves a space for a more sophisticated meatless dining experience.

Manna, in Primrose Hill, plugs just that gap – living up to its billing as a “gourmet vegetarian dinner house”.

From the amiable professionalism of the waiting staff to the slick furnishings, it is clear that this is a proper restaurant – one which just happens to be vegan.

The highlight was my companion’s bangers and mash, which almost drew a gasp at its delightful presentation. It was truly a mountain of organic fennel and pumpkin seed sausages, and parsnip and carrot mash, with some delicately placed onion rings forming the summit – and it caused the next table to interrupt and ask what wonder we had ordered.

The appearance was matched by the eating, a really hearty treat, with the sausages some of the nicest I have tasted.

My starter, the “bonda and ragada plate”, was equally delicious. A pair of spicy potato cakes and an almond pattie, perfectly complemented by the mustard pear and mint coriander chutneys, a unique and highly satisfying blend.

After a lifetime of settling for whatever the only vegetarian option is, without giving it a moment’s thought, my brain had nearly ground to a halt upon glancing at the menu – and being faced with having to choose from such a delectable-sounding line-up of viable options.

We also sampled the avocado, beetroot and carrot sushi for starters, with wasabi and pickled ginger, which went down nicely, while the only slight down note was an enchilada main course, a baked tortilla with bortelli beans, and a sweet potato, pumpkin seed and cheese filling, which did not reach the heights of the bangers of mash.

The presentation was again a highlight when we finished with a mouth-watering fruit crumble and custard, closed with an artistic swirl of a top crust.

Manna, which was opened in the 1960s and claims to be the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the UK, is still pulling off its “gourmet vegetarian” tag with some style.

It is a place where vegetarianism is taken seriously – a real treat for me – and yet somewhere I am sure most meat-eaters would happily dine – and without even a murmur about a lack of “proper food”.


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