As a well-meaning, but not terribly strict, vegetarian it is usually at restaurants that I get led astray. Generally, I cannot bear to eat what is usually the only vegetarian option on the menu, and tends to consist of salad with vegetables, while everyone else is tucking into homemade hamburgers, Thai chicken or steak. It is also hard to persuade carnivorous friends to go to vegetarian restaurants, as these establishments are often lumbered with an image that is a bit too wholesome and worthy. But if I took them along to Manna (4 Erskine road, Primrose Hill, NW3; Manna Vegetarian Resturant front view 0207 722 8028) I bet they would hardly notice that we were in a residential street just off Regent's Park Road, on a busy Friday night and managed to get the only remaining table.
The place has a lovely atmosphere; it is a little old fashioned, a bit like being in a Swiss chalet, and full of animated and casually smart diners and friendly, polite staff.
The menu sounds anything but worthy, in fact many of the dishes sound positively wicked. I started with a plump pumpkin organic gnocchi. The gnocchi were tenderly cooked to the right consistency and arrived hot and ready to be plopped in the mouth. They were served in a fabulous melting, blue cheese, white wine and sage sauce which had quite a subtle flavour. As good as this was, I was incredibly jealous of my companion's starter, a bubbling cheddar cheese and horseradish fondue with mushroom and crostini rosemary skewers. This was absolutely gorgeous (I know because I kept stealing bits), the combination of the soft cheese, the crusty breadsticks and the herby flavours was divine, and it went perfectly with our glasses of ice cold sherry that we had ordered.
We then had a little wait for the main courses to arrive, but I took this as a good sign as I am always a bit nervous when food arrives at top speed as it normally means it has been prepared or microwaved, it was worth waiting for. I had a Manna thali, which was a visually delightful and proportionally generous dish with pea, cardamom and mint kuchori pastries, spicy tomato pancakes, saag paneer, creamy butternut squash kadu malai, basmati and lentil kitcheri with coconut and coriander chutney. It tasted fabulous.
My friend had black bean nachos, which were corn and wheat tortilla chips with Monterey Jack cheese, refried black beans, nopale cactus, avocado chunks, lettuce, tomato and jalepeno chilli sour cream and fresh tomato salsa. This was also extremely delicious and generous and put to shame the nachos that are served in many Tex Mex restaurants in London.
Dessert...there were probably better choices (such as panettone and white chocolate pudding or Indian rice brulee) than what we opted for, but we were not really very hungry and just requested some petit fours. These were a selection of biscuits and chocolates, such as biscotti, a Belgian chocolate truffle with desiccated coconut and a few other bits and pieces...the coffee was very good and ended what can only be described as an extremely satisfying meal.