The original Manzi’s first opened off Leicester Square in 1928 and was a huge hit – now the iconic seafood restaurant is back with a bang, albeit in a new location in Soho and under the leadership of the Wolseley Hospitality Group. With its mesmerising mermaids, moules marinière and monkfish Wellington, this is one opening restaurant watchers have been waiting for with baited breath. Here’s why Manzi’s is our restaurant of the week.
The story of Manzi’s in Soho was meant to be a straightforward one. The resurrection of an historic London seafood institution by venerable restaurateur Jeremy King and his business partner Chris Corbin, founders of the Wolseley, Fischer’s, Brasserie Zédel and more. But that’s not how it played out. After a very public tussle last year, Corbin and King departed their business; and their restaurants – including Manzi’s, at the time still a work in progress – now all operate under the Wolseley Hospitality Group.
Manzi’s, then, is the first new opening from the Wolseley Hospitality Group. For avid restaurant watchers such as myself, it’s impossible not to wonder how close it is to Jeremy King’s vision or indeed to the original Manzi’s, founded off Leicester Square in 1928 and shuttered in 2006. I play a guessing game, deciding which of the design details King signed off. The mosaic floors? Definitely. The curvy eating counter? Possibly. The alabaster statue of a buff Poseidon? Definitely not. The coastal grandmother driftwood lamps? Nope. The shell bras worn by the mermaids that adorn the bar? I’d like to think so.
In a year or so, all this will be ancient history. Manzi’s will simply be Manzi’s. The menu reads well and dare I say King himself (my last mention of him, I promise) might not even disapprove. It devotes itself to the classics, both the classic classics and the modern classics. In the former category, you’ll find a prawn and crayfish cocktail, moules marinière and lobster thermidor. In the latter, I’d put the sea bream ceviche, yellowfin tuna tartare and the shrimp burger, a nod perhaps to J. Sheekey.
The pricing is friendly too, with a prix fixe at £32.50 for three courses, fish and chips at a fair enough £24.75, and a whole section of sandwiches, four out of five of which are under £20 (the exception being the lobster roll). These are the dishes you’d probably gravitate towards at lunch, particularly in the less formal dining room.
In the evening, I know I’d want to be in the spectacular, O.T.T first floor dining room where the shell-brassièred sirens dwell. That’s when you might level up your order with oysters, caviar and lobster. Fabled Studio have created two distinctive spaces, and while I may raise an eyebrow at some of the campery, it all looks gorgeous, from the candelabras to the shell grotto loos and the coral reef private dining nook.
In London restaurant shorthand, the downstairs is more for J. Sheekey types; upstairs for the Sexy Fish crowd. I’m unconvinced by the outdoor terrace, however. Nothing could persuade me to dine al fresco in a Soho alleyway, though it seems popular enough. Each to their own.
We try some great dishes and some not-so-great dishes. The fish and chips are not yet as good as they need to be; and they need to be excellent. “Like pub fish and chips,” sniffs my lunch date. The soufflé suissesse, reimagined for Manzi’s with the addition of smoked haddock, is excellent. If you like The Wolseley’s soufflé and you like The Wolseley’s omelette Arnold Bennett, then you’ll love this. It comes with a perfectly dressed green salad.
I also enjoy the crab cocktail, though I find myself reaching for the salt and pepper, in silver crab cruets (“Pinched from Manzi’s” reads the underside). Puddings, pleasingly retro, include black forest gateau, fruit cocktail jelly and the best brandy snaps.
Manzi’s wants to make us smile. It’s fun, it’s frivolous, it’s feelgood. It feels like a restaurant with a future as well as a past.