Like many of London's most successful restaurants, Manteca started with a pop-up. And after several roaringly successful residencies, it set up shop permanently in Shoreditch, in a restaurant that ironically used to be a Pizza Express. We say ironically because Manteca is the antithesis of drab, chain-made cardboard (sorry, pizza) – a gluttonous purveyor of modern Italian sharing plates that constantly hypnotises diners with its bowls of hand-rolled pasta, in-house charcuterie, fire-cooked meats and fish, hunks of salt flecked focaccia and cups of affogato.
It’s one of London’s most exciting restaurants and the brainchild of David Carter, a master of open-fire cooking best known for founding Smokestak, and ex-Petersham Nurseries, Kitty Fisher's and Sager + Wild chef Chris Leach. Aside from championing small-plate interpretations of modern Italian cooking, a large part of Manteca’s identity is a nose-to-tail philosophy, which strives to use the whole animal. It's a concept familiar to diners who've eaten at the likes of St John, The Marksman or Smoking Goat, and is something now possible at Manteca's Shoreditch site with its fully-fledged panelled hanging room, which was purpose-built for a programme of whole animal butchery and meat curing.
While the location of Manteca may have changed through the years, some things have stayed the same. And one of those is perhaps its most fabled dish – the brown crab cacio e pepe, which has been a permanent feature on Manteca's menu for the past five years. It’s an ingenious re-invention of the traditional Roman pasta dish and was inspired by the interesting flavour combinations Leach encountered on a trip to California which made him wonder whether crab meat was the perfect addition to this cheese and pepper classic.
It’s arguably one of London’s most iconic pasta dishes and a stroke of genius – a perfectly balanced, rich sauce punctuated with black pepper, Grana Padano and tangy crab meat that clings as dearly to tonnarelli pasta as you did your first boyfriend. A trip to Manteca will see you devour this dish in minutes, mopping up all the remaining sauce (otherwise known as liquid gold) with thick slices of focaccia. It's undoubtedly the best morsel of the meal.
If you can’t get your fix at Manteca, this recipe means you can recreate it at home in around 15 minutes with just six ingredients. One tip from Manteca is to blitz the crab meat before using it, as they do in the restaurant, which makes for an extra velvety sauce.