Sometimes you go out for lunch not expecting anything special and come home completely amazed at the standard of cooking and service you have just received, writes Michael Holland…
That is what happened after lunching with Ms Aitch (no relation) at Manuel’s in Gipsy Hill. We both left there feeling utterly spoilt and with plans to go back.
Manuel’s serves food that has influences from many Mediterranean countries, though with a predominantly Italian bias. The chef and owner is Manuel, and the waiter, of over 20 years, is also called Manuel. Manuel the chef has a real passion for cooking while Manuel the waiter talks about good wine as if it as much a part of life as breathing. Chef Manuel recited the day’s specials which saved us going through the menu because they sounded fantastic, leaving us with only a drink to order and to wait for the first courses to arrive.
While we chatted about making wills and troublesome family parties we heard a noise nearing from behind. It was Manuel the waiter pushing a cart carrying a huge prosciutto ham set its own carving block, which he then proceeded to slice with expert precision. This was then laid before Julia with melon that was equally meticulously carved. As Manuel pushed the cart away she said “I want one of those.” I wasn’t sure if she meant a skilled, old-school waiter or a large cured ham. However, I think this is the point when she fell in love with Manuel. I began with the chargrilled Squid, a very nice dish with the experience heightened by roast garlic and chili.
Our accompanying wines were a Sicilian Inzolia for the ham, while I had the Pinot Grigio Rosato Alto Mincio, and Rosé from the Lombardy region. It was light, smooth and quite uplifting. So much so I had a second glass with my second course.
I chose Monkfish in a sauce of samphire and roast tomatoes that offered up feelings of joy with every mouthful. An excellent choice that I was attracted to by the chef’s description. But I was immediately envious when Julia’s Lobster Ravioli appeared. She allowed me a taste and it was divine and I was not surprised to hear that this is one of the restaurant’s biggest sellers.
After the main courses we sat finishing our wine and chatting with the owner who told us how he came to take over Manuel’s, and also how his rigatoni with beef sauce is the best around. “Better than what you would get in Rome,’ he claimed. Just one more reason to return.”
We were both quite full but in the interests of foodie journalism we decided to share a dessert from the range of Manuel’s homemade delights. The Tiramisu that arrived was creamy, succulent and one of the best I’ve had for a long while. It did that thing of making you feel like laying down on the settee, closing your eyes and smiling.
We both loved Manuel’s. The chef puts a twist on classic dishes to make them his own, thereby making Manuel’s a restaurant for celebrations and fine dining. But there is also a set course, set price option (Lunch Mon-Sat/Dinner Mon-Thurs 2 Courses £19.50; 3 Courses £23.50). Free live music ranging from Jazz, Elvis and opera can also be enjoyed here.
After a Limoncello and a coffee I dropped Ms Aitch at the station where she was still dewy eyed over Manuel.
129 Gipsy Hill