Thursday 9 January 2020 5:52 pm

Weekly Grill: Chris Leach, chef founder of Manteca, on rediscovering bananas and being interrupted by Ross from Friends

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Chris Leach, and I’m chef founder of Manteca, a new restaurant on Great Marlborough Street, which I’m opening alongside David Carter of Smokestak. We’ve just finished a residency at 10 Heddon Street, so Manteca will be an evolvement of that. 

Tell us about Manteca

Manteca is all about nose-to-tail cooking, with hand rolled pastas and fire-cooked cuts of meat to share. I’ve travelled a lot around Rome and Napoli and fell in love with the simplicity and conviviality of Italian dining culture, so we’re looking to capture this at Manteca while also keeping it really up-tempo like some of my favourite spots in LA and New York. Some highlights on the menu are pig head fritti with spicy pilacca, grilled lamb neck with charred cauliflower, Sicilian pomegranate and flatbread, and garganelli pasta with pig tail ragu – we buy whole animals from independent producers in the UK and look to use every part of them.  

What food makes you happy and why?

My son is nearly one, and it’s so much fun giving him new things to try, because he gets so excited. At the moment, my favourite food tends to be whatever makes him the happiest – we’re currently going through a banana phase. 

You come home drunk and hungry – what do you cook?

I don’t tend to come home drunk because of my young son, but in the past my go-to drunk food was a kebab, or a KFC Zinger Tower burger, because they’re delicious. If I cooked at home I would make cacio e pepe, because it’s so easy and there’s always pasta, pepper and cheese in the kitchen.

What’s the strangest encounter you’ve had in your restaurant?

Years ago, when I was working in the fish section at a restaurant, David Schwimmer wandered into the kitchen and said to me “I’m not really a scallop man but those scallops are the best I’ve ever had”. It was so surreal seeing Ross from Friends just saunter in and talk to me about scallops. He was on a table with Stephen Merchant and loads of other comedians. They all ended up coming into the kitchen and looking around, picking up knives and checking out the food.  

What’s your earliest food memory?

My mum is from Tipperary in Ireland, so we used to go there about six times a year, in every school holiday. My earliest memory is my Gran making soda bread there. She used to make it every morning without fail, and she never weighed the ingredients, just threw everything together. It came out perfect every time. 

Tell us about the best meal you ever had

Noma was a life-changing meal for me. The way they break down barriers and break all the rules is amazing – the first six courses of our meal were all eaten without cutlery. Everything they served was just so clever. I’ve also had many special meals at The River Café, and Bestia in LA really opened my eyes in terms of how a big restaurant can operate.   

What’s your favourite dish?

Spaghetti pomodoro would be my death-row meal, without a doubt. If it’s made with great quality tomatoes and amazing olive oil it can be the best dish ever. It’s so simple but so delicious.  I’ve had some really good versions of this in Naples – there was one with local lobster in it too. 

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?

The only food I really dislike is desiccated coconut. 

What do most people get wrong when cooking? 

When you cook pasta, you always have to undercook it in the water and then finish it off in the sauce. The essential ingredient is pasta water, it brings everything together – I’m not sure that everyone knows how important it is. 

What should everyone have in their kitchen cupboard?

Salt, anchovies, good quality olive oil. 

What’s the best thing about the London food scene? 

For me, it’s price point. People have this idea that London is really expensive but if you know where to go, there are some great value restaurants. Some of my favourites are Silk Road in Camberwell and Xian Impression, which both serve amazing Asian food at reasonable prices. Also, there’s really good bread in London at places like Dusty Knuckle and Pavilion.  

You’re mayor for a day – what food law would you introduce?

I’d put a ban on food waste. Throwing food in the bin is a modern luxury, but we need to start being a lot more frugal and thrifty – this is the year we really need to change people’s mindsets. 

Manteca is on 58-59 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7JY; To book email or go to