Only one Manchester restaurant made The Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards list of the top 100 restaurants in the UK recently: newcomer Mana, which came in at number 73.
As we said ourselves when we reviewed it, there’s nothing else quite like Mana in Manchester. The Ancoats opening has been one of the most-talked-about in the past year, and is hotly tipped for a Michelin star, if we dare talk about such things.
Mana is headed by Noma alumnus Simon Martin, who “offers a high-end experience minus the starchy pomp,” said the National Restaurant Awards review.
“This is cooking as alchemy: creating gold from almost nothing. As such this restaurant has resonated far beyond Manchester.”
And now, a national food critic from The Sunday Times agrees, describing the Mana experience as “sheer seductive hedonism”.
“From the moment the first food arrives at our table in this lofty, airy and modishly austere Ancoats room, I’m blown away,” writes Marina O’Loughlin in The Sunday Times.
“It would be slightly mad to try and report everything we eat: like detailing a play, scene by scene. Mana is consciously theatrical, its impressive kitchen the star of the show, every seat angled towards it.”
Marina is impressed by chef Simon‘s creations: “holy cow, can he cook.”
The ‘English Tostada’ arrives “laden with juniper-scented fresh cheese and thyme, looking like the White Rabbit’s herbaceous border,” writes Marina.
And “the sultriest eel, smoky from the yakitori grill and glazed with blackcurrant vinegar and roasted yeast (like a glorious cross between soy sauce and Marmite)” arrives “sizzling on stones” before being whisked onto damp fabric to stop it cooking further.
“There’s cleverness backstage too,” she writes. The “inevitable fermenting and curing, but also the likes of ikejime, a Japanese method of killing fish: more humane and delivering a better-tasting end product.”
And the taste certainly impresses the national critic.
Marina learns that her tartare with fermented rhubarb and a posy of purple oxalis is from a former dairy animal, retired for nine years and dressed in its own rendered fat. And that “the main ambition of this dish is, apparently, that it ‘tastes like beef’.
“It does: like beef squared, beef to the power of beef, incredibeef. I swear, if you put it to your ear like a seashell, you’d hear mooing.”
This kind of culinary ambition can often verge on the ridiculous, says Marina. But Simon, “still less than 30 years old, pulls it off, dish after dish.”
The cost may seem high at around £105 a head, but the quality justifies it, believes Marina: “As far as the carping over cost is concerned, the restaurant Mana most reminds me of isn’t Noma but three-starred Maaemo in Oslo, where our bill was double this one – and the rest.”
With a culinary experience this impressive and the accolades coming thick and fast, it’s hard not to mention the possibility of this being the Manchester restaurant to finally bag a Michelin star this year.
And Marina eloquently expresses what we’re all thinking.
“I’ve tried to avoid mentioning Manchester’s what-us-bovvered? huff over being ignored, year after year, by Michelin,” she writes.
“Here, I am failing at the final hurdle. If Mana doesn’t get a star, it’ll be pretty much proof of what I’ve long suspected: the tyre floggers are having a sniggery time trolling the city.
“This isn’t a good restaurant by Manchester standards; this is a good restaurant by world standards.”
We think Mana is a gastronomic game changer, too. We’ll just have to wait until October to see if Michelin agrees.