The southern end of the Fulham Road, replete with restaurants of all kinds, has rarely seen any of distinction. However, since its opening in 2010, Manson has attracted positive reviews and a loyal local following. This seems likely to increase further with the arrival of a new head chef Alan Stewart in October, 2011.
Not that the physical look of the restaurant, located at the junction of Fulham Road, and Rostrevor Road, has changed. Like Sands End, also in Fulham and under the same ownership, its casual, rustic décor evokes the glories of the classic British country pub. The predominant material is wood: floor, bare tables, attractive shelving, and the bar itself. Side seating of comfortable leather buttoned banquettes and eclectic hanging lamps help to produce a cosy, intimate feel even in the spacious, partially mirrored room.
Now self-styled as a British brasserie with 70 covers, Manson is producing food of a much higher level. This is hardly surprising given Alan Stewart’s CV which includes head chef for Tristan Welch at Launceston Place and two years in the kitchens of Chez Bruce under Bruce Poole. Like them, the use of seasonal and, as far as possible, local produce is axiomatic. Indeed, he has gone further than his mentors by adopting a sustainable “field to fork” approach. Thus the provenance of food is largely from allotments – his own and local residents’ –and foraging of hedgerows and forests, whilst small Cumbrian farms are the main source of meat. Admittedly, the last is hardly local, but shows the lengths he is prepared to go for quality. Moreover, the preparation restaurants often leave to others, such as butchering whole animals, smoking fish and meat and baking bread, are all done in house.
Alan Stewart’s skilled, unpretentious cooking allows clear, pure flavours to shine through. Dishes sound simple but require serious, painstaking attention. Timings are precise and techniques confidently assured. Combinations on the plate may sometimes be unconventional but are always harmonious. The trend for long slow cooking sous-vide is avoided, whilst foams, purees and smears are noticeable by their absence.
The dinner menu, which includes seven starters and eight mains, is traditionally British, although some dishes are given a contemporary interpretation. It features Colchester oysters and smoked Cornish mackerel from seven starters and Cumbrian suckling pig and Herdwick mutton amongst eight mains. (Prices range from £6.00 – £9.50 for starters, £11 – £28 for main dishes and desserts are £6.00)
At lunch there is a slightly shorter carte, with a good value set lunch from Monday to Fridays (£13.50 for two courses and £17.50 for three). On Saturdays brunch items such as eggs Benedict are also available, and traditional roasts feature at Sunday lunch.
fine-dining-guide visited Manson in early October to sample Alan’s game dishes.
The meal began with excellent bread, with crisp crust and firm crumb. The butter was home churned, rare in even the most accomplished restaurant kitchens
The first course was a Scottish venison tartar. The chopped haunch meat, mixed with shallot and cooked beetroot, dressed with rapeseed oil vinaigrette and seasoned with juniper pepper, had a mild flavour and a softness which melted in the mouth. A creamy, perfectly smooth celeriac puree and pickled girolles gave an earthy dimension, whilst shaved Kentish cobnuts added crunchy textural contrast. The matching red wine with its bouquet of red berries, was fresh on the palate with a hint of spice and good acidity. (Wine: Little Yerring Pinot Noir, Yering Station, Victoria, Australia)
Red leg partridge from Kent exemplified two different techniques. The tougher leg meat has been braised, taken off the bone and set like a terrine with parsley. The softer breast had been roasted medium. The result was a beautifully tender bird with a hint of sweetness. The accompanying poached and seared quince gave richness, whilst the dish was dressed with a well balanced honey, whiskey and lemon vinaigrette. Toasted nuts and land cress added texture, colour and a mild peppery quality. The white wine served with the partridge had a hint of roasted and honeyed richness which complemented the dish perfectly.
(Wine: Limousin Reserva, Marques de Riscal, Rueda, Spain)
Yorkshire grouse, deconstructed like the partridge, has its breast roasted pink to maximise its flavour and its legs fully cooked. Whilst the expected pate of the bird’s offal served on a cruton (of seeded treacle bread) was offered, traditional game chips and bread sauce were missing. Instead, pickled damson and damson jam were used to cut the deep gaminess of the grouse and its intense sauce. Lightly cooked Savoy cabbage, gave a lively freshness which relieved the intense richness of the game. Although more conservative diners might recoil at these modifications to the classic accompaniments, others will welcome the lighter contemporary approach. The full bodied wine, with its complex, intense bouquet of chocolate and blackberries and velvety palate, stood up well to the dish. (Wine: Riferno Rossa Riserva, Camillo De Lellis, Molise, Italy)
For dessert, the Tarte Tatin was a model of its kind with crisp pastry and softly baked, deeply caramelised apples. The use of Kentish Braeburns, which retain their texture better than other varieties, was an inspired choice. The accompanying clove ice cream, smooth and gently spiced was equally accomplished. The paired sweet wine, with its honeyed, peachy notes, worked well with this delectable dessert. (Wine: Coteaux du Layon, Loire, France)
Service, headed by Alan’s sister Laurie, was as knowledgeable, attentive and unobtrusive as at La Trompette where she previously worked. The flight of wines were selected from an extensive list of over 60 bins which also include some English wines. Prices are reasonable, from £4.50 a glass and £17.90 a bottle.
Overall, the serious quality the cooking at Manson is a testament to the skill and imagination of the kitchen. This is high level dining without the luxurious surroundings, tablecloths and stiff formality. Alan Stewart and his team have created a brasserie style restaurant of which they can be justifiably proud. Even in these early days, the potential shown is very strong indeed and is likely to attract those from further afield as well a regular locals.