This month Romain Fargette and Alexis Colletta will open Mano on Mayfair’s Heddon Street, a Brazilian-Japanese restaurant that will have Luciana Berry, winner of Top Chef Brazil 2020 and a MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist running the kitchen. The restaurant is the first in a new collection that Fargette and Colletta will open under their Madness Hospitality business. A second, Mexican-Japanese restaurant Yuca, will open on the former Mews of Mayfair site in Lancashire Court this summer.
What are your backgrounds?
Alexis Colletta: My background is in finance, but I have a bit of experience in hospitality. I decided I was not made for the corporate world, so I launched a cigar brand in Dubai and then later on decided to focus all my attention on hospitality. I met Romain two and half years ago in Monte Carlo about a business completely non related to hospitality. At the end of the meeting he showed me the plan and design for a Japanese-Mexican restaurant concept called Yuca, which he wanted to open in Mews of Mayfair and I told him that I loved the idea and we went from there.
Romain Fargette: My family have owned restaurants and clubs for 40 years and I managed my first club at 18 years old. I opened three other clubs and then I came upon the idea of doing a place that had a Saint-Tropez vibe with Mexican food. My mother is Mexican and so I have an understanding of Mexican cuisine. I came to London to try to understand what the market wants and came across the Heddon Street site. I then met [Brazilian-born] Luciana and I had an idea to not do Mexican-Japanese but have more of a Brazilian flavour there.
Why did you choose London?
AC: When I first met with Romain, he wanted to do it in Miami because he loves it there. When I saw the plans for Yuca it looked like Zuma, and if you want to set up a new brand you have to do it in London because that’s where you set the benchmark. If you’re successful in London that’s when you can go global. This is the same with Mano – we want to launch it in London, get some good exposure and then go global. When it comes to hospitality Mayfair is the heart of London in terms of global exposure.
Tell us about Mano
AC: This is the first real fusion Brazilian Japanese venue in London. The cuisine is not new in London but often it’s just Brazilian sushi and sashimi. This is more than that.
Luciana Berry: Here in London but also in the UK and even Europe people think Brazilian cuisine is just about barbecue; they think we just eat meat and feijoada [a Brazilian stew of beans with beef and pork]. For MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finals I cooked a dish with coconut milk and people labelled me as a Brazilian chef cooking Thai food – they had no idea that we also use coconut milk in Brazil. Here in London Brazilian restaurants are all churrascarias where you eat as much as you can. Mano is a very good opportunity for people to understand what Brazilian cuisine really is.
So why the Japanese influence?
LB: Brazil has the biggest community of Japanese people outside of Japan - São Paulo has a population of around 1.9 million Japanese descendants. When slavery was abolished in Brazil people were required to work on the coffee farms and that was the reason many Japanese came to Brazil. People in the UK know about Nikkei cuisine from when the Japanese went to Peru, but many have no idea about Brazilian cuisine with the Japanese influence, and this is what Mano reflects.
What’s on the menu?
LB: The menu is sharing plates. We believe that people want to go to restaurants, but they often don’t want a huge meal and instead just want to share a few things. Dishes will include cassava chips served with wasabi mayo; Brazilian tapioca blini with caviar; avocado salsa and shiso leaf; tuna tartare and tapioca squid ink and beer cracker; salted cod croquette and karashi mayo; heart of palm ceviche; and corn puree and shiitake. We’ll also serve a picanha rump cap of beef, which is a very popular cut in Brazil, with yakiniku sauce, farofa and chilli salsa; a yakitori chicken skewer and sesame seeds; and ‘buta no kakuni’ which is a dish made with pork, cider, soy sauce and ginger. My signature dish is Amazonian River prawns and cashew moqueca. We are also doing fried sushi, including a salmon hot roll, which is known as a Hot Philadelphia in Brazil (it is made with cream cheese and salmon in a rice roll which is wrapped in nori and then deep fried in batter). Desserts will be things like a tapioca creme caramel with Brazil nuts and salted miso caramel; and kumquat, pineapple, coconut and cachaca ice cream. It was not my intention to create a menu that is gluten free, but it is about 80% gluten free because we cook with a lot of cassava and rice.
What will the feel of the restaurant be?
AC: We want the guest to feel like they are coming to our house for a dinner party, that’s the core of our business model. This is something that Romain is bringing with his experience in Saint-Tropez. There will be 100-110 covers on the ground floor - we are still not sure whether to do 50 covers in the dining room or push for 60 - with a 50-cover terrace in an Amazon jungle style with bamboo tables. Upstairs will be the main bar and then in the basement will be a speakeasy bar for around 35 people.
RF: The idea with all our ventures is to create different spaces. The terrace will be Amazon in style and the dining room will be more Brazilian with Japanese influences. The bar will be another world, with more manga and Japanese touches and then in the speakeasy we want to create a 1950s New York vibe.
AC: The main restaurant and bar will open in February and then we will do a separate launch for the speakeasy.
What can you tell us about Yuca?
AC: It is going to be set over three floors in Mews of Mayfair and will serve Mexican food.
RF: It’s a much bigger space, around 6,000sq ft, and will have 300 covers and a more clubby feel to it.
How do you feel about the timing of your launches?
AC: We wanted to open Mano in December, but we had delays on furniture from Italy. We were a bit sad to not be able to open before Christmas but then we saw how things were going with Omicron and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We’ve made peace with that. Slowly things will start to pick up again and I’m sure by April things will have picked up big time.
RF: In front of us is a very big summer. A lot of people will be wanting to come out and dine on the terrace once the summer starts. This is the perfect time to open Mano and be ready for a big summer.