Latino-funk is the thumping soundtrack while the red, gold and green interiors will transport you to Rio’s Ipanema beach. But this is not Brazil, instead new restaurant Mano Mayfair is found in London’s foodie enclave of Heddon Street.
While the Amazonian-themed dining room – think: gold ceiling, mirrored walls and hand-crafted furniture – will dazzle with its decadence, it’s really the Brazilian-Japanese fusion cuisine which is the star of the show.
Overseen by head chef Luciana Berry – winner of Top Chef Brazil 2020 and a MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finalist – the culinary idea is inspired by many dishes found in São Paulo’s Liberdade district. The city is home to an estimated 1.9 million Nikkei (descendants of Japanese immigrants) and the marriage of the two cultures has resulted in a unique style of cooking.
“Nikkei cuisine is the by-product of Japanese migration and adaptation, created over 100 years ago in South America,” says Luciana. “My hope is that I can showcase a cuisine that it still unknown to many.”
The menu is eclectic with sharing plates of Carne Seca Bun (dried beef in a home-made Brazilian bun); Smoked Picanha with Yakiniku Sauce (Brazil’s national steak, hickory smoked with a traditional Japanese sauce); Luciana’s signature Moqueca (Brazilian seafood stew with coconut milk & grilled seabass) and Pudim (Brazilian crème caramel made with tapioca, salted miso caramel & Brazil nuts).
As well as the inventive cuisine, Mano Mayfair is all about capturing an exuberant dining experience, much like the beach clubs of St Tropez. The concept was created by Romain Fargette, who has owned restaurants, beach clubs and night clubs on the French Riviera since he was 18, and entrepreneur Alexis Colletta. The duo have also joined forces with industry veterans Bruce Isaacs and Domenico Meliti, and the opening is the first in a new collection of restaurants launching under the Madness Hospitality umbrella, which aims to put the fun back into fine dining.
Here, exclusively for Forbes, Romain Fargette and Alexis Colletta reveal more about how London is ready for a slice of Nikkei culture.
What can guests expect at Mano Mayfair?
Alexis: Mano represents the perfect mixture of amazing food, surprising cocktails, and a vibrant atmosphere. Guests can expect a more casual experience at lunchtime, as well as dinner on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but the mood quickly escalates on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays when we aim to elevate the offering to more of an upbeat experience.
Romain: Adding to that, at the end of April, we are also launching an electro brunch on Sundays, with a Brazilian brunch menu, live DJ and entertainment.
Why now? Why Mayfair?
Alexis: Mayfair is filled with great restaurants, but the majority of them don’t offer dining experiences with that personal touch and element of fun. At Mano, we welcome our guests as if they were coming to our home. It is so much more than simply a place to eat.
Romain: The fact that we are the only independent restaurateurs in the area also gives us a lot more freedom to do what we want. This means we can offer much more of a personal touch to our concept.
How difficult is it to stand out in London’s thriving restaurant scene?
Alexis: Extremely difficult. London is most probably the world’s most competitive destination when it comes to restaurants. Saying that, I think our core mindset is something quite unique so we aim to stand out.
What are your essential ingredients to success?
Alexis & Romain: An insatiable will to break into this market, a passion for the hospitality industry and, most importantly, a solid team spirit which is unbreakable.
What will the Madness Hospitality group bring to the restaurant scene?
Romain: Pure madness! Seriously, as the name suggests, Madness Hospitality has ambitions to bring new, exciting and decadent concepts to the London scene, and beyond.
Alexis: We know this market very well and also understand where the competition has failed in the past. Our ambition is to compete with industry leaders.
How has your past experience helped you with this opening?
Romain: I grew up in the south of France. My home town is the embodiment of what we in the industry call ‘the French touch’, so I learned a lot growing up there. I have also travelled a lot, sampling many of the world’s best venues, from Miami to St Tropez. This has given me a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the restaurant business.
All of this has given me a unique vision, and what I think differentiates me from my peers. It is something completely natural that I have inside me. When I enter a place, I know immediately if it will work. This is our strength: I create the concepts, Alexis tells me if they are doable, and I then develop them on a business level. That is why we are such a perfect partnership.
Mano means ‘brother’, so how important is it to be ‘friends’ in business?
Alexis: Mixing friendships in business can be very difficult as it can ultimately end up ruining a friendship. With Romain, it is completely different as we became business partners in the first place and from that, a real friendship was born. So strong is our relationship that it is more like a true brotherhood.
This bond helps a lot in business because we are completely on the same page. We like to say that talking to one of us is enough to know what both of us think. This family spirit is a core asset of Madness Hospitality and our concepts. This combination of two stubborn and dedicated minds focused on the same goal is a powerful one.
What are your favourite dishes on the menu and why?
Alexis: The Black Angus Ribs by far. The way Luciana slow cooks them makes them just so tender and flavoursome!
Romain: Pan de Delicia, because it is something completely new that we have invented with Luciana. There are so many flavours and textures in this one dish.
How important is the restaurant design vs the food balance right now?
Alexis: In all honesty, they are equally important. While the traditional definition of a restaurant has always been to ‘restaure’ – or ‘restore’ – guests when they are hungry, nowadays people go out to restaurant for a full ‘experience’. It is about the food obviously, but the interiors and the atmosphere are just as vital.
Romain: This is even more essential today, thanks to social media. Hence, why we have a few Instagram-friendly spots in the restaurant.
What’s next for you?
Alexis & Romain: First of all, consolidating the success of Mano. We are also super excited to be opening YUCA Mayfair in September 2022. Located in what was formerly Mews of Mayfair, this new concept will offer Mexican-Japanese cuisine and – again – a flamboyant atmosphere. The venue will feature three floors of restaurant as well as a late lounge in the basement, in a Tulum-inspired design!