Head chef Alan Stewart has made Manson a family affair, with plenty of genuinely local produce on the menu following the departure of Ramsay protégée Gemma Tuley. Neil Gerrard reports
At the relatively young age of 29, Alan Stewart has already worked for some of the most prestigious restaurants in London, including a two-year stint at Chez Bruce and a period at Launceston Place which saw him work his way up from junior sous to head chef within 13 months.
But after just over a year at the helm at Launceston Place, Stewart, who also has a degree in hospitality management from Manchester University, decided it was time for a new challenge where he could make his mark with his own culinary style.
So towards the end of 2010, he took up an offer to replace former Ramsay protegée Gemma Tuley as head chef at Manson, a relaxed brasserie-style operation on the Fulham Road. And to make it more of a family operation, his sister Laurie has joined from La Trompette in Chiswick to run the front of house.
"I am a young guy and I want it to be somewhere my mates can come and have a pint and a good bite to eat, and not feel like they have to sit there in silence with a jacket on," Stewart says.
The simplicity and unfussiness of the venue is reflected in the menu, exemplified by dishes like wood pigeon with spelt, currants and chervil (£7.50). Stewart roasts the pigeon on the crown, having taken the offal out, which he sweats down and chops up before putting it through the spelt in a kind of spelt risotto. The dish is finished off with a deep, rich sauce made from the bones.
"I think if things go together in nature then they tend to go together on the plate, and pigeons eat grains," Stewart explains. To freshen the dish up, he adds raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants to lend a little acidity.
The restaurant also has the bonus of being able to offer genuinely local produce in the middle of London, as it comes with two local allotments stuffed with seasonal vegetables grown by Manson's own gardener.
Although Stewart hasn't had long to plan what he would like to see grown, he is already using produce from the allotments in his dishes.
The Gressingham duck, greyhound cabbage, gooseberries and hasselback potato (£18.50), for example, uses a summer variety of cabbage straight from the neighbouring allotment, which Stewart has been unable to find anywhere else. "It has the most wonderful sweet, rich flavour," he enthuses.
He has also introduced a nose-to-tail philosophy to the restaurant, which sees whole animals brought on site to be butchered, and a rapidly changing menu to make use of all the various cuts.
It is in this way that the duck egg, Scottish girolles, garlic and parsley (£7) is married up with duck ham and toast, the ham having been produced from the same Gressingham duck available as a main course.
It is not all about traditional technique though. Stewart has water baths and a vacuum packer at his disposal, and has just ordered a dehydrater, having used more modern methods alongside Tristan Welch at Launceston Place. He explains: "I am not necessarily putting foams on the plate and going for high-end fine-dining food, but I do want to use the techniques to hopefully create fantastic food."
Sample dishes from the menu
Ham hock soup, fresh peas, herbs £6 Wild sea trout, fennel, sea vegetables £9 Gin and tonic cured stone bass, cucumber, mint, bronze fennel £8
Devon chicken, potato pancakes, girolles £14.50 English Rose veal, green beans, house-cured sardines, tomatoes £19 Rib of beef, bone marrow, chips, green salad (for two) £50
Damson parfait with rose granita and brown breadcrumbs £6 Warm chocolate, raspberry and hazelnut tart, honeycomb ice-cream £6.50
Manson 676 Fulham Road, London SW6 5SA
Tel: 020 7384 9559