Although England is where veganism was formed, where the Vegan Society was founded, and where like everyone cool wants to live, its biggest city is kind of weak when it comes to vegan food. It's easy to be vegetarian here -- restaurants still think it's necessary to mark options that are 'vegetarian' instead of marking the much more necessary 'vegan' (seriously, you can tell from descriptions and names what is vegetarian, without fail). But, while there are many wonderful vegan options at omni restaurants, wonderful all-vegan restaurants are few and far between.
Despite the dearth, the all-vegan Manna, in Primrose Hill, London, would still be the best we have to offer even if tons of vegan restaurants existed here. The food is fantastic, mainly comfort food in large portions. So freaking good. And aside from a few service issues aaaaand a few kitchen hygiene issues (we'll get there), there's little else to complain about.
The first food served, the canape, was a buckwheat blini topped with horseradish sour cream, beluga lentils, and beetroot caviar. I imagine that the taste of this bite is what Russians would be referring to whenever they say "this tastes like home." It was bright and dilly and reminiscent of borscht with cold sour cream on top. So, yeah, Russian. It was pretty good, considering I always think I hate sour cream and dill kinds of things and I liked this.
Next up was the delicious soup. As you may know, soup is pretty much my favorite thing, and not just because I am good at it. Manna's offering was celeriac and fennel bisque (hehe bisque) topped with cream and roasted chestnuts. We didn't get the whole 'topped with cream' thing, and we only found a few chestnut pieces when we reached the bottom of the bowl, but the soup was really delicious. It was perfectly salted and wonderfully simple. And it came with two small bread rolls! Yay bread!
Finally, our 'starter' came, the tempeh cabbage rolls with miso sauce. I expected a cold kind of sushi-roll thing, but surprisingly these were warm, hearty rolls, with grilled cabbage holding tempeh and matchstick veggies that tasted like a standard Chinese stir-fry. They were hard to eat with your hands and harder to cut apart nicely with knife and fork, but I really enjoyed them.
The salad, up next, was really lovely, despite the fact that I tend to stray from vinegar-y salads (or 'bowls of lettuce', as husband tends to call my unadorned...well...bowls of lettuce). Manna's salad on offer was a complex mixture of an arugula base (which they call rocket in Europe becauseeee NASA?), roasted squash, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and roasted pepitas in a sherry vinaigrette. Despite the vinegariness, I really enjoyed having an interesting and refreshing salad instead of my usual lettuce bowls. It was really good, especially with the warm squash addition. I used to hate olives but now I absolutely love them. It took a trip to Portugal when olives and bread were all I could eat for a few days. Now I'm all yay olives.
Luckily, dessert was up next. The hair incident made me a little nauseous but it was nothing a change of palette wouldn't fix. They offered two options: a chocolate orange hazelnut delice or a coconut rice pudding brulee. Obviously, with two people, we got one of each, the only way to do things properly. Both were beyond words. Seriously. Probably the best desserts I've had in London so far that I didn't make myself. The chocolate orange one was like a really thick fudge on top of graham-like crumbles that tasted exactly like a certain cereal from my childhood that I cannot recall, but I know I loved it. The vanilla ice cream on top may have been Swedish Glace but it worked so well with the dish. It was wonderful, as was the rice pudding. I normally require chocolate in my desserts but I actually preferred this one. The bruleed caramelly top was ridiculous and it didn't even need the mulled cherries it came with. So creamy, so comforting, so delightful. I would love to eat this every day.
Water speed: Poor but eventually gets there, which makes it the greatest water speed in London.
Service: See above. Service in England is notoriously bad. Luckily all the staff is super nice.
Bathrooms: Down the most awful set of stairs ever - seriously, it would be closer to normal if they took out every other step. You have to be very careful. But they are surprisingly nice for basement toilets.
Food: Wonderful comforting vegan food. Just watch out for hairs.
Bonus: Such a great value!