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Manzi’s is again and I’ve blended emotions about it. The unique venue opened in 1928 off Leicester Sq. and ran for greater than half a century. In its heyday, it attracted figures equivalent to Joan Collins, Kingsley Amis and the Kray twins, together with extraordinary punters who got here for fish supper after the panto and, in fact, denizens of Soho, in all their wonderful guises.
Manzi’s closed in 2006, after years of decline. Former restaurant critic John Lanchester famous in 2011 – when the premises was taken over by St John Resort – how the as soon as historic restaurant had “like many a historic restaurant earlier than it, grow to be traditionally horrible”.
I by no means dined at Manzi’s. All I’ve to gas my enthusiasm is different individuals’s nostalgia. However is nostalgia sufficient to relaunch a restaurant, particularly when the person who conceived the challenge is not on the helm? London restaurateur Jeremy King first initiated the idea and secured the situation at Bateman Buildings off Soho Sq.. King and Corbin had been liable for launching and working such cherished establishments as The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel, Fischer’s, Colbert, Bellanger and Soutine. However, in April 2022, he and enterprise associate Chris Corbin left the corporate below fraught circumstances. The eating places now function below the Wolseley Hospitality Group, owned by Minor Worldwide Public Firm Restricted, the funding associate with whom King and Corbin fell out.
In hospitality circles, the query of WWJHD (ie, what would Jeremy have executed?) hangs portentously over Manzi’s 2.0, a challenge he was unable to deliver to fruition and the primary new enterprise from Wolseley Hospitality Group since his departure. King needed the brand new Manzi’s to retain the enjoyable and frivolity of its forefather. I’m wondering, then, if he would have endorsed the full-size taxidermy marlin wall-mounted within the lobby, the large-scale alabaster Poseidon presiding over one desk on the bottom flooring and the 4 verdigris mermaids propping up the bar on the primary flooring?
We could by no means know. What we do know is the revived Manzi’s generally feels extra like a theme park than a restaurant (the theme being The Little Mermaid). To the credit score of Fabled Studio, the design follow that conceived the interiors, the kitschier components are evened out by extra understated nautical touches like rope detailing across the pilasters and blue wave tiling on the ground.
The menu is in depth. It consists of a big collection of crustacea, sandwiches (equivalent to shrimp burger and fish finger sandwich) and uncooked, cured and smoked fish among the many starters. The mains are predominantly seafood (with specialties together with monkfish Wellington and cioppino fish stew), although vegetarian and vegan choices characteristic alongside roast lamb, rib-eye steak and roast hen.
We began with Jersey rock oysters, Newcastle brown clams and roast scallops. These had been enough. Which is to say disappointing as a result of shellfish ought to all the time be sensational. The scallops, specifically, had been tepid and felt like they’d been sitting round on a counter earlier than being ferried to the desk. Served alongside was our starter of leeks mimosa. This was bewildering. Weedy strips of leek in a yellow-green French dressing with devilled eggs on prime. If it is a timeless basic, I’m calling time on it.
Issues picked up with the mains. The entire sea bream was a hefty specimen that had been filleted and topped with a few florets of broccoli. It was scrumptious. And whereas the Arbroath smoked haddock soufflé was no image, it was wealthy and creamy and got here with the proper little gem coronary heart salad. Out of curiosity, I additionally ordered Manzi’s fish and chips, which includes haddock goujons fried in breadcrumbs with wedge chips in a big paper cone. Out of greed, I requested a facet of French fries too. This led to a horrible realisation. Neither the chips nor the fries at Manzi’s are any good.
The dessert menu consists solely of retro puddings: fruit cocktail jelly, tiramisu, black forest gâteau, summer time pudding, brandy snaps, strawberry and cream tart, Arctic roll, peach melba and knickerbocker glory. We ordered the black forest gâteaux and strawberry tart. The tart got here with a coulis, which was uniformly one-note and too candy. The black forest gâteau triggered a wave of nostalgia as I recalled variations I’d consumed within the Eighties. Then I remembered simply how cloying this creamy, cherry-laced cake might be after the second or third chunk and I gave up. A lot for nostalgia.
The employees had been jolly. The wine and cocktail lists extensive ranging. The place doesn’t aspire to the grandness of a Wolseley or Delaunay. And I can think about it turning into a vacation spot (for vacationers, for the curious) as a result of “enjoyable” sells. Particularly the retro variety. Nonetheless, the jury’s out on mermen.