Monday 1 February 2016

Mana Mana

There was enough vinegar on the grilled vegetable salad for even me to comment which will only mean something to you if you knew how every salad is a battle between me and the rest of the world, me being on vinegar’s side. But we'll get there.

The last time I’d been to Mana Mana was maybe a year ago, maybe less, I don’t exactly remember. What I do remember is that we’d passed the place when it was still at its previous place (Hemonystraat) a million times and wanted to eat there for another million. It was, however, always shuttered up but for the one time, which is how I knew it was a restaurant to begin with and not the shutters of a person with the good fortune of having their family crest being a big steaming pot (see their logo). I remember being in a very bad mood and going was meant to be both a surprise and to cheer me up. It did. 

Anyway, as these things go, the second time I saw the shutters open was when they opened at their new location in de pijp. So we went and it by no means means a thing that by the time we went again, it was a year or thereabouts later. Actually, if anything means anything, it is that we, on three different dinner occasions, ordered our flatbreads from Mr M. himself. I don’t think he bakes them anymore, but they were still good.

This last time, so last week, we ordered the hummus with the hardboiled egg, a flamed-to-hell eggplant and that salad with all the vinegar. So back to the salad but first maybe another memory, that being me being surprised when, the first time we went, my hummus wasn’t just a splodge of hummus, but a fancier spoldge, all drizzles and swirls. Same went for whatever else it was that we enjoyed then: I remember powder-sprinkles and sauce-star-shapes, dots, designs and lines. Then and now, basically, more flourish than I expected from a small Israeli place, but then what do I know? 

Ok, so the salad. A little little on the grilled vegetable side and as it’s me and my vinegar habit saying it, a little much on the sours, but we appreciated all this very much when we’d eaten all the good stuff off the top of the hummus and were left with enough naked hummus to soak it up. We also appreciated that the kitchen’s capacity was pretty much used up catering to the one big table of 12 in a restaurant that wouldn’t look empty if there were only 12 people eating there. This party plus all their noise plus terrible acoustics would have been reason enough for any chef to give one too many lemons a squeeze. 

The hummus was and is excellent. A big swirl of chickpea meet tahini and, on top, little pools of a nicely green olive oil, a tomato or maybe red pepper-relative of gazpacho, chopped cilantro, a 7-minute egg and enough raw garlic to make you notice they're actually using garlic. And when does that happen. This came with two flatbreads which, as I say, were good, but not excellent like we knew them to be.

Our third dish (and three’s enough) was the eggplant. Y’know, one of those totally blackened ones that Ottolenghi (frustratingly, always Ottolenghi) introduced us to on p.122 of Plenty. These guys get so charred that, in my eggplant experience, their burnt-out insides can taste a little too strongly of a sort of essence of smoke which is why, I suppose, it was served with pomegranate seeds, and is why we were happy to still have all that lemon and vinegar leftover. For balance you see. The thing can be split open with a spoon (yes) and pretty much sucked up through a straw were you to have one and were sucking food through straws to be polite which I doubt it would be.

Delicious all of it, especially if you, like me, treat people that don't like garlic with suspicion.  
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