photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
Hanging outside of Manteca is the carved face of a pig. It’s got a bit of Old Major, the burly boar from Animal Farm, about it. “All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.” You know the swine. There’s an assured look on its face as people come and go from the Shoreditch restaurant underneath, all eager to prove those words right by devouring crispy blocks of ciccioli, or deep-fried pig’s head. It’s a hyped restaurant. Italian-influenced with British produce. Nose-to-tail cooking. It ticks those boxes and has a bit of a revolutionary tic itself—brown crab cacio e pepe just like nonna never made it. Accomplished, comforting, and just a little creative.
After its prolonged Soho residency Manteca clearly knows what it’s doing. This is a restaurant that’s gone out on loan and is ready to play in the big leagues. Its Shoreditch home is big. Massive, in fact. Tables, booths, counter seating, upstairs, downstairs—you name it, it’s got it. This means everyone’s here. Self-facilitating media nodes crowding into booths for lunches over pappardelle duck ragu. Early days relationships, hiding parts of themselves but sharing focaccia. Counter-cruisers ordering two plates of this, two glasses of that, in and out.
Sizing up means losing other things, and the oat-toned Shoreditchness of this spot isn’t quite as low-lit-and-lean-in as Manteca’s old temporary home. Maybe it’s just busier. More people are here eating sea bass, duck, and other animals. Importantly, more people are here just pigging out. And that’s what you should be doing, though we think sharing smaller plates and pasta is the way to do it—and that also keeps the bill around £30 a head without wine. The house-cured salumi, Rizla-thin, is essential. It’s not easy turning a plate of sliced meats into something sexy but Manteca manages it with suggestively see-through prosciutto. As for the pasta, well, that’s where you should go hard. Duck fat pangrattato on top of ragu is a flourish that even the most hardened traditionalist will eulogise over.
Given Shoreditch’s propensity to attract pillocks, there’s something affirming about Manteca. It’s assured and confident, but it doesn’t feel the need to stuff that down your throat or feed you in a ball pit. There’s a stylishness in its quiet straightforwardness and, whether you’ve got four legs or two legs, that’s the sign of a very good restaurant.
These slices are careless whispers of glorious ham and salumi. Creamy mortadella with flecks of fennel seeds, or a prosciutto so delicate it begins to melt as soon as it hits your tongue. Whatever’s on offer, it’s bound to be good. These aren’t the sort of cold cuts you slather in mayo and stuff in a baguette on holiday, these are something quite different.
Deep-frying a slice of tender meat pulled from a pig’s head is always going to go down extremely well in our books. It’s crispy, moist, and the mostarda cuts through that richness perfectly.
Pig Skin Ragu
First thing’s first, a pig skin cracker—like a prawn cracker but, well, much piggier—is a brilliant thing. Secondly, when it’s being used to scoop a ragu (made up of slowly cooked and minced skin, soffrito, wine, and parmesan) it’s a complete sensation. This is simultaneously refined and comforting… and something you’d really like to eat in bed.
Brown Crab Cacio e Pepe
No, this tonnarelli isn’t one for the purists out there. But it is one for anybody who occasionally finds themselves waxing lyrical about their favourite crustacean as if they grew up in the same shell. The sauce is mega-rich and we’d recommend it as a sharer rather than as a solo bowl.
Our go-to order. The pappardelle has got all the chew, bounce, reverberations, and everything else you could want from flour, eggs, and water. The duck is moist and though it isn’t particularly saucy, the flavour is full of salty, meaty, umami-goodness.
While it’s undeniably a glistening looker, we can’t help but taste this pork chop and, at the same price, hope for two bowls of pasta instead.