Ham & High

Health-giving luxury... Manna (is) off Primrose Hill's trendy main drag... Once you've found it, though, cherish it...
Manna (is) off Primrose Hill's trendy main drag although just a short walk up a side road, you have to know it to find it. Once you've found it, though, cherish it, for there are few restaurants that offer such imaginative, well-cooked dishes of this quality. The fact that it is an entirely vegetarian restaurant - with many dishes offering vegan versions - turns it into a stunning night out for those non-flesh eaters who are usually shortchanged with a choice of leftovers and pulses stuffed with cheese and euphemistically titled ' vegetarian options'.

Dedicated, dubious meateaters can be reassured that at Manna vegetarian eating need not involve any frightening, unnatural abstinence - there is plenty of compensatory booze and cream, butter and fried stuff for anyone who can't live without it. It is not about giving up pleasures, but discovering new ones...

Olives came first - not a freebie, but well worth (it) for a generous bowl of fat, juicy, herbally marinated ones. Spoiled for choice on the menu, we took the pain out of choosing starters by sharing a 'Manna Meze', where you select three of them, which then arrive together, in slighter smaller quantities, on one mega platter.

And they were fabulous; particularly the potato tarkari and poppadum roulade. The excellently spiced tarkari came wrapped in a soft poppadum- might sound odd, but it was heavenly, especially when dunked in the exquisite tamarind and coriander salsa..... delicious risotto balls, stuffed with mushrooms and dolcelatte, formed a neat little pile on another corner of the platter, and these were accompanied with an oddly glutinous peppercorn sauce. Last on our starter spree came some Vietnamese spring rolls with a sweet shoyu sesame dip.

Main courses lived up to our by now heightened expectations. My friend (a vegan) plumped for an aubergine charlotte, baked with chickpeas, tarragon and red wine, and served on a tomato and basil couli. His verdict - a triumph. The roasted aubergines, so often bland, were well set up by a very rich sweet pepper base, the chickpeas were suitably tender and the accompanying roast potatoes toothy and perfect...

By way of experiment I chose a dish of crispy polenta layered with mash, spinach and mushrooms. The experimental bit was the polenta like tofu and Quorn, I defy anyone to make it edible. Well, Manna had a very creditable stab at it, with fried, square slabs of the stuff separating the other goodies, and served with a smoky red pepper and white bean goulash.... this dish definitely came to more than the sum of its numerous constituent parts - my hazy memories of it swerve from dreamy, creamy celeriac to smoky, beany stew to crunchy polenta corners - an embarrassment of flavours for one plate. The critics' view