Barely thimbles full of sunshine to go on
There’s an ocean full of midnight rolling right up to the door
Thanks to Jay ‘make sure you get my best side’ Rayner’s article in the Observer Review I’ve been outed as a food blogger. Actually, I’ve been made before: the stained anorak, camera and furtive manner are a dead giveaway. Not a problem if you enjoy the restaurant you’re visiting, like say Quo Vadis, but a bit awkward if you’ve not had a good meal like tonight’s at Manicomio. Actually, not so awkward, I said I didn’t think the cooking was very good because, well, it just wasn’t.
There must be some law or edict, probably from medieval times, that says that food served in the Square Mile must always deliver far less than it promises. I struggle to recall any reasonable meals I’ve had over the past twenty years or so in the area. Sure, there were memorable lunches at Sweeting’s and Gow’s, but that was more down to the quality and quantity of the fine wines we drank over the course of (now legendary) five hour lunches. The City was a very different place in those days.
Manicomi is located in an anonymous alley toward the top of Cheapside. The building is, I read, designed by Norman Foster although you could have fooled me. Probably knocked off by the tea boy one Friday afternoon. It’s neither architecturally interesting nor particularly comfortable inside. Which would be fine if the meal compensated in some way.
The menu is pretty terse but what stood out most were the prices. These are definitely aimed at City employees - don’t the owners know we’re in a recession ? If you’re going to use Rocket, that much abused leaf, at least find and use the best you can. One that tastes peppery and bitter and adds a bit of zing to the whole dish, not the tasteless greenery that was on my plate. The chilli tested more like a mild pepper and didn’t add any of the necessary hint of heat that’s crucial in a dish like this. Surprisingly, the Cuttlefish itself tasted good and was fresh but the preparation showed little sign of the char-grill. The taste was also muted - blanded out by too much ordinary Olive oil in the dressing. There was also some farro which you don’t see that often but it was unadvertised and I didn’t need it in the dish.
Manicomio must use the same grill (the hated vapour variety) as at The Beehive pub because my Sirloin of Black Gold Beef looked very wan. There was little evidence of grilling and it just didn’t look rare. It also came as a tagliata which seemed more like a ruse to disguise how little meat was being served for £22. It went back. Two minutes later it returned with the suggestion I try some first and that the colour was down to the type of beef. I ate a morsel - it was stone cold.
At this point it was a case of leave now or damage limitation with the rest of the menu. The pasta dish replacement was better but not by much. Big lumps of chicken liver which were pale on the outside and raw in the middle sat on decent pasta in an underseasoned broth. Some of the carrot and courgette spaghetti had made its way over from one of the other main courses. I’d really have preferred it if the kitchen didn’t decide to get all thrifty with a twelve quid dish of pasta. It was relentless and dull to eat.
I got a couple of glasses of prosecco knocked off the bill but really I would have paid for them and a lot more if I could have just had a decent meal. I’m really struggling to see what’s Italian about this joint – all the qualities that food from that country exhibits were mostly absent and the meal turned into the familiar City restaurant experience.
Luckily, there is a solution. If you’re in the area you’re not too far away from St Paul's tube station where a couple of stops will take you to L’Anima. There you can get a shot of real Italian soul at not dissimilar prices. It’s your choice.