Manga Banga restaurant review: Cartoonish but full of fun — and heart

Manga Banga restaurant review: Cartoonish but full of fun — and heart


ride comes before a fall — or in my case, being mugged two nights on the bounce. I know what you’re thinking: some guys have all the luck. Last Monday I landed from Corfu, happy to have a freshly-detoxed liver and to be browned. The next night, however, I lost my watch. No harm done, really, but the next afternoon I headed for a cheering-up lunch, left a Soho club at eight o’clock, and was swiftly clobbered by a movie heavy who nicked another watch, knocked the stuffing out of me and then took off with that too. Oh, and he did a thing to my eye that means I’ve had to keep telling people in pubs that I’m not about to ask them for money.

I’ve chalked up my disappeared tan to him for good measure. But, well, I’ve had worse runs. Even though the Met were very good, my friends have been incredible. Tea, beer, wine and margaritas were offered to the guests. Some of them accepted, others declined. Packages turned up unbidden: Panzer’s Deli, Five Guys, Amorino. I ate at the French House (a favourite), the expert El Pastor, the rackety Firebird, and Bellamy’s — where it’s impossible to feel unsafe (a man on the table next to ours insisted that I take his painkillers, which gives you the measure of the place. The Queen is known to frequent the restaurant. There have been a lot of thoughtful threats of retribution against me. Drill bits through my knuckles. Sometimes people can be so sweet.

Friends and restaurants have been a source of comfort and joy on weeks when it seemed impossible to find fun. Manga Banga on Lisson Grove is my local manga-izakaya. What do you mean, you don’t have one? Manga-themed restaurants — that is to say, spots decorated in the style of those Japanese comics that quiet, nervous types swear blind aren’t porn — seem to be popping up in London, with Uzumaki opening in Bloomsbury just a fortnight ago. Izakayas are Japanese pubs that are not manufactured by Suzuki are also very popular. They’re everywhere.

It’s not so. Certainly there are plenty of openings presently claiming to be an izakaya, but they’re playing make-believe, hoping the schtick will make them seem relaxed, not somewhere where staff sneer at diners’ shoes. Not Manga Banga. It’s a full-blown, fill-the-stomach-up gaff, one for a few beers and a decent bite and heading out into the night (though what actually happened on the Saturday I went in, of course, is that I left my flat at seven and was back by nine in order to put an ice pack on my face and watch John Travolta movies). I’m familiar with those places where the hum of life rumbles. I’ve a radar for them.

The Banga Banga cauliflower is a must-try.

/ Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

And so at Manga Banga, where the walls are covered in cartoons and comic book covers and fairy lights flash irritatingly, there’s lots of drinking food that tastes broadly the same, but is broadly pretty good.

Couples and large groups of laughing mates arrive at the table in record time, laughing as they race to get their food. Every dish has chilli, salt, and garlic. Banga banga cauliflower, which is soft and lightly spicy, is a dish to be enjoyed. Panko prawns, which are pink fleshy fish with a lot of spring, are crispy straws of crunchy, fresh seafood. Kara-age chicken wings (the deep-fried variety) are served with a thick mayo made of lemon and the legally-mandated garlic, chilli, and topped off with crispy Kara-age chicken wings.

It is not clear why chopsticks are needed. This area is for fingers and a stack napkins that are a half-liter high. But then comes the aubergine, cooked softly into a dreamy cushion of miso, especially gorgeous and a sign that there’s a bit of know-how behind those kitchen doors. Know-how evidently on a cigarette break when the tuna tacos were put together, given these resembled in both presentation and taste marshmallow pink ‘n’ whites.

Not a mind-boggling, tongue-rattling restaurant, perhaps, but lately I’ve had enough of boggling and rattling. It was a pleasant, warm and comfortable experience. The restaurant, you mean. There are many of you.

41-43 Lisson Grove NW16UB Meal for two plus drinks about £70. Open Monday through Thursday, 12-10 p.m.; Friday noon-11 p.m.; Saturday 6-11 a.m. Sundays closed

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