I’d heard about Manamana Amsterdam, an Israeli vegetarian restaurant in De Pjip, through a Dutch food PR a while ago. She raved about how amazing the food was there. But it wasn’t until a few days ago when I was in Amsterdam and heard that Manamana Amsterdam was only going to be open for a couple more weeks that I thought I’d better check it out.
After consulting the Manamana Amsterdam Facebook page I found an address (66 Hemonystraat) and phone number for the restaurant. We managed to book a table for 8pm which was a relief as I’d been told Manamana Amsterdam is quite small. It is. And if you don’t know De Pijp it can be tricky to find as there’s no sign on the door. On arrival we told there had been a slight mix up with the bookings and were shown to the worst table in there, in the path of the waiting staff (the waitress did tred on my foot at one point). But after a couple of glasses of surprisingly decent Israeli wine (I’m used to the sweet kosher variety that tastes more like port) we didn’t mind. plus, it meant we had a prime view of Omri the owner and the chefs cooking up a vegetarian feast in the kitchen.
Staff were incredibly friendly but the service was pretty haphazard. We were seated for 15 minutes before anyone came over to explain to us that there was no menu. The concept is that for €25 per person you’re brought out a selection of vegetarian dishes to share until you decide you can’t eat any more and then you get dessert. Bargain.
After a further wait of almost half an hour our first course arrived – a medley of Israeli style tapas. Pickled tomatoes, pickled pak choi and pickled celery (all cold), warm curried carrots, and tahini, accompanied by slices of pita bread. This was followed by a bowl of thick cauliflower and sweet potato soup. Then it was the turn of the star dish – a kind of mushroom stroganoff of chunky, garlicy shitake and oyster mushrooms inside a swirl of creamy mash, topped with slithers of Parmesan and fried beetroot and carrot. Then came a yellow pepper, stuffed with mushroom and courgette rice, which was packed full of flavour, on a bed of tomato sauce. Up next was a baked squash filled with tomato and smothered in cheese, served with glass noodles.
By now we were starting to feel pretty full but nobody else in Manamana Amsterdam had thrown in the towel yet. So despite feeling like we were in an episode of Man Versus Food we decided to carry on. Then we had a lucky break. It appeared they had forgotten about our table (even though we were seated right by the kitchen). This gave us about half an hour to let our food settle before we were presented with some bread and hummous. Then an exquisitely presented baked aubergine topped with tahini, the Manamana Amsterdam take on babaganush arrived.
We were bursting, but I’d seen the table next to us get a colourful plate of what I thought was pizza which I was determined to try as it looked so good. It actually turned out to be sweet potato with cheese, pinenuts and fried beetroot crisps. delicious but I could barely manage a couple of mouthfuls. At breaking point we asked for dessert which was mango, lightly poached in beetroot and mint. The people on the table next to us asked if they could get the same so we offered to share as there was no way we could eat it all.
It’s a real shame that Manamana Amsterdam is closing its doors as the food at this Amsterdam hidden gem is excellent. I just think where it falls down is the concept. It isn’t quite right. First off, there’s a lot of waiting around. We were there for almost four hours and we were one of the last diners to arrive – once you’re there it’s for the night. This means the turnaround is non-existent.
What also seemed strange is that different tables were given different dishes and understandably people were questioning why. To me it would make more sense to give everyone the same, especially as Manamana Amsterdam is quite cosy so you can easily see what the people next to you are eating.
It makes sense then that Omri, the owner, told us that Manamana Amsterdam isn’t closing its doors for good. He’s actually changing the concept in a few weeks time. The idea it seems is that 20 people per night will be able to come along and learn to cook some of his Israeli dishes for themselves, then sit down to eat them. Personally I think if they stuck to a more traditional restaurant format Manamana Amsterdam would be on to a real winner. Manamana Amsterdam is certainly popular, it’s booked out every night and the quality of the food is outstanding. We waddled out of the door blissfully content and we weren’t the only ones.
Manamana Amsterdam is only around for a couple more weeks. If you want to try this Amsterdam hidden gem before it closes book now.