The first search result when I google 'manteca' is a helpful recommendation from Google Translate: 'manteca' means 'butter' in Spanish. Good. Calling your restaurant ‘butter' is a statement of intent I find very pleasing indeed. Especially when it comes from the double talent of Chris Leach, pasta maestro previously of Sager + Wilde and Kitty Fisher's, and David Carter, best known for the sexy fire ‘n’ flesh barbecue joint Smokestak. The pair first opened manteca at the pop-up dining space 10 Heddon Street in Mayfair last summer, and I have blissed out memories of the sunny terrace in the hazy heat of globally warmed July, inhaling phenomenal - buttery - crab cacio e pepe and vermouth spritz after spritz. After four months of *that* crab pasta splattering Instagram, Leach and Carter opened a permanent site here on Great Marlborough Street.
It's a beautiful restaurant, a sort of hipster jungle: dark green walls, low lighting, and enough succulents to open the sort of East London shop called Pricktease that exclusively sells cacti, coffee and hand beaten leather aprons. The menu is all in lowercase, the extremely friendly staff all have those blurry tattoos that look like Van Gogh rip-offs. Basically it all feels a bit too cool for this confused periphery of Soho, opposite the big M&S and a Starbucks and SoullessCycle.
The menu is as glorious as remembered, a roll call of precisely everything you want to eat. Rosemary focaccia? Here! House-made mortadella. Yep! Pink fir potatoes with smoked cod’s roe? Tonnarelli with brown crab cacio e pepe? Shorthorn rib eye from a retired UK dairy cow? Yes, yes, yes, plus loads more besides, and take a gold star for your ethical beef credentials too. The booze list is equally enticing - classic Hackney heatwave fuel Chin Chin Verde and wine from the keg, twisted takes on Americanos and negronis, lower ABV spritzes.
Basically we had everything I’ve just mentioned, apart from the beef, because I'm still feeling a wee bit Joaquin about the whole cows/imminent climate doom thing. Thinly sliced ham, as any grandmother will tell their anaemic vegetarian granddaughter, doesn't count - and manteca’s house-made mortadella is a rippling hill of beauty worth dying on anyway. It is amazing, Italian sausage slithered into melty, porky butter, like the sweetest childhood memory of a white bread, butter and ham sandwich, but with the bread removed for purer pastel pink pigginess. God, it’s good. So are potatoes with cod’s roe, the spuds fried to chip scrap crunchiness, the cod’s roe slick, creamy, the perfect amount of fishy. At one point I was inspired to layer: one scoop cod’s roe, one wedge oily focaccia, one crispy potato. I’m not saying manteca should credit me for having thus invented the world’s best chip butty, but they could.
After the glass-shattering heights of the platonic ham, bread, potato and cheese ideal, the pasta is merely good. Farfalle with kale sauce and chilli is just cheesy pasta, but green and slightly spicy, and the crab cacio e pepe isn’t quite as euphoric as I remember it on that sunny Mayfair terrace - the beautifully cooked, elastically twanging fresh noodles are thinner, the cracked black pepper makes the musky shellfish a touch muddy. But these aren’t bum notes, merely less iconic jingles of deliciously buttery carb, and frankly I don’t know why you’re still reading this when you should instead be booking the next available table, for a roll around in those silken sheets of perfect, perfect ham.
Meal for 2: about £85
58-59 Great Marlborough Street
Nightcap: More sexy dark rooms with blinding cocktails, you say? Right this way, madam, to The Blind Pig, the speakeasy upstairs at the Social Eating House, for a Less Than Perfect Manhattan that is, in fact, pretty damn perfect. (socialeatinghouse.com)