La Manna Direct

25 Comments

10 English St, Essendon Fields. Phone: 9026 9209

Essendon Fields is a bit like a cross between a shopping centre and an industrial estate – with an airport attached.

Having pre-planned my journey to avoid tolls – up Mt Alexander Rd and Keilor Rd, along Matthews Ave, turn right on to English St – I enjoy the drive, rubber-necking at many shopping strips. This can be a bit of trap, of course! Eyes on the road, Kenny!

I’d been hipped to La Manna by Consider The Sauce visitor Marine when she commented on one of our early posts – Fresh On Young in Moonee Ponds.

Having done some online sleuthing, I’m aware that I’ll be able to enjoy a lunch and a shopping foray at La Manna. I am bearing a fairly long, for us, shopping list. Our cupboards are bare!

My first stop is the La Manna cafe.

Considering the pronounced Italian and/or Mediterranean flavour of the whole enterprise, and the slogan “For the love of food” emblazoned outside, I expect more of the cafe. Maybe some soup and good bread, or some pasta.

Instead, I find an eating place with a few salads, some good-looking stuffed baguettes, pies and the like.

I’m hungry and not too fussy. I settle on a Bocastle Cornish pastie ($4) and a slab of frittata ($5).

The pastie filling consists of little more than potato strands and a very meaty-flavoured mince. It’s peppery and good.

The frittata is better. So packed with vegetables – leek, mushroom, carrot, tomato, capscum and even red beans – that it’s not even very eggy, it’s a satisfying and affordable lunch.

Then it’s out in the cavernous space of La Manna proper, one hand pushing a shopping trolley, the other grasping camera, shopping list nearby.

I start at the end that hosts the cheeses, cold cuts, antipasto items, meat and seafood, adjacent the cafe.

The glaring lights make taking photos a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, the range of products is amazing.

But I’ve already discovered my enthusiasm is dented by the amount of plastic used on all the meats, cold cuts and seafood. I’m no purist – we accept plastic shopping bags and re-use them at home – but this seems excessive.

And all that packaging means there’s no deli counter – and not much else by way of face-to-face inter-action with the staff.

This makes me realise that our food outings are about much more than a mere exchange of a credit card for goods. I miss the banter and questions and answers and humanity that are part of every transaction at our favourite shops, markets and stores.

As well, knowing I’ll be making a Greek salad for dinner, with no deli counter I am unable to buy a piece of fetta just right for the job, forced to settle for more than I want at a steeper price than I’d envisaged. Nor can I buy a handful of fresh kalamata olives. Worse, the packaged fetta, when I make my salad, manages to be both rubbery and tough.

There is, though, a lovely lady cooking up Hahns ‘Merican-style hot dogs and offering samples to customers.

And, yes, there are staff members everywhere, all of whom would no doubt be happy to help me.

But the stock seems presented in such a done-and-dusted way as to discourage individuality.

Moving on, I scoop up 500g bags of dried apricots ($5), roasted almonds ($8) and sultanas ($4) for muesli – not super dooper bargains, but not bad either. Likewise three sacks of Lowan rolled oats at $3.36 each.

The fruit and vegetables seem priced pretty much at Coles/Woolworths levels. And our local Sims in West Footscray is selling Fuji apples for under $5, a whole bunch less than La Manna.


Moving along once more, I start to find real fine buys:

It’s time to make a new batch of pasta sauce, so I grab up an armful of La Gina chopped tomatoes tins at 80 cents each.

A couple of packs of Reggia spaghettini cost $1 each.

Lavvaza Crema e Gusto coffee sets me back $4.

Best of all, I snap up a 500ml bottle of Olive Valley EVOO for $4. This product comes from Nar Nar Goon in Victoria and the price is amazing.

Serious shopping just about done, I toss in a parcel of mixed almond biscotti ($6.95). I have three of them at work that night. They are brilliant – moist, fresh and even better than I’ve had from the likes of Brunetti’s or Cavallaro’s.

Apart from the daily delivered “specialty breads”, it seems all the cakes, biscotti and so on are made on the premises.

If I find the La Manna experience a tad sterile, it says more about my preferences than anything else.

If I had a larger family to feed and La Manna was closer to home, it’d become a regular stop for sure.

I receive a nice surprise at the checkout counter – I’m eligible for that week’s 10% discount on my bill total, taking $71.08 down to $64.77.

Timing visits to coincide with such offers would seem to make a lot of sense.

In any case, I’ve applied for a customer loyalty card at the La Manna website, which can be found here.

La Manna Direct Cafe on Urbanspoon


25 thoughts on “La Manna Direct

  1. Oh so cool that you went! I actually went tonight myself and bought some Lavazza coffee and wonderful passata. My partner got some Chilli beer made in Mexico which was pretty delicious too.

    Oh i so agree about the whole sterile thing…the fresh produce bit is a tad bit ‘Costco’ like. What i love most about this place are the grocery items, the fresh food i could get cheaper in good old St Albans 🙂 You should try the Italian sea salt next time you’re in, at $1.18 it’s a great buy 🙂

    Loved your post!

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    • Hi Marine! Yes, there’s a touch of Costco about the place. Have made additions since you dropped by – packaged fetta terrible, biscotti to die for! I agree about the fresh stuff – much cheaper to be had at our local greengrocer in Yarraville or Little Saigon Market.

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      • Several years back, I came very close to causing serious tooth damage on rock hard dried fruit in their muesli, so haven’t set foot in one of their stores since. So very cheap, but a lot of the stock seems real cheap and nasty.

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  2. I checked it out after your post Kenny. I agree completely! Some real gems, but a lot of the products (and prices) are the same as Coles. Probably good for everyday shopping, but not for a really exotic experience?

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  3. I’m curious what the angle is, when they say it’s a ‘new kind of supermarket’.

    I like the fact you can taste some things. And having specials in bulk still in boxes is quite continental supermarket-ish.

    Then at the same time there’s stationery and plastic kitchenware and hardware.

    Is the identity is a bit unclear?

    Must try the biscotti though!

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    • Hmmmm, that’s a maybe. Part of the reason is to do with scale – same as with Costco. I’m either on my ownsome or with just Bennie, so we don’t buy big. Also I quite like shopping 3, 4 or more times a week, especially for fresh stuff. Which one do you shop at?

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      • I don’t have the Costco feeling when i shop at Aldi 🙂 I shop at the Burnside one which is about 2 minutes from where i live. Most of the stuff there isn’t in bulk form actually, serves are practically the same as the supermarkets.

        But if you ever pay a visit, try the marinated goat or cow fetta 🙂 It’s extremely good. Also, the range of German chocolates are also alluring hehehe.

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      • Are they all the same? Or do they differ from shop to shop? We’ve got two local – Central West and one on the way to Highpoint. We are planning to do a review/pics of our local Sims in Barkly St. That’s just about the right size for us. Except for one bit of total insanity – despite the big Indian population in West Footscray, our Sims doesn’t stock fresh coriander! 😦

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      • You can get fresh coriander at Sims, but it’s plastic wrapped on a foam tray like many of their veges in the cooler cabinet 😦 Oddly enough it is listed as “coriander/dill” on the shelf and on the shopping receipt.

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      • Wow, never seen it. And, believe me, I’ve looked. Yeah, the foam tray thing sucks. Still, we find the place convenient, although the fruit range ain’t as good as our Yarraville local. For some reason, Sims always seems to have a good deal on red capsicums.

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  4. All Aldi’s are the same. I like the one in Burnside because it’s a more quiet store than say Sunshine or Keilor Downs. Best time to go is when everyone’s at work hehehe. Never go on a weekend, it’s just a total chaos!

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  5. I recently wen to La Manna and thought a deli would be good too. Fruit prices are more like supermarket prices than local greengrocer prices, but with the full range of freezer and pantry items it will become a regular shopping place for us too. I love the bakery. I was also impressed at the consideration and service of the staff members, we visited with young children and they were very welcoming. Was also surprised to see the man sampling food in your post above is my Dad 🙂

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    • Hi Fiona! Thanks for your perspective. It’s too much of a drive to be a regular for us. However, we are open to a change of heart – we’ll be doing the Aldi thing in future with some regularity, for specific products. Hey – small world, eh? Does your dad know?

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      • He knows now, I emailed it to him. He was very surprised. 😀 I love Aldi too, but am so glad LaManna is close for us. Have enjoyed looking at your other posts here too, lots of foodie ones 🙂 Thanks

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  6. La Manna now has a deli. The cafe is expanding. The bakery in there now stocks more cakes and biscuits, they even have fresh gelato. I live in Sunbury and used to shop at Aldi, but I find the meat and fruit and veg is a lot fresher and nice at La Manna, I also love the selection of sour dough breads and wood fire breads very good. I am also a coffee nut and have my own espresso maching (semi commercial type) and the range of various coffee beans is a pure delight. They have loads of oganic foods, and a great range of indian and Italian stuff. Their range of various cheese is also a sheer joy. I come away from La Manna with more money in my pocket and a load more food than what I could get in Sunbury. The delight is that I even can afford to by 4 bunches of flowers to fill my overly large crystal vase and still manage to buy lunch and have a coffee at the cafe and also shout my mum to lunch and coffee. Its a foodies heaven,

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    • Hi Liz – thanks for dropping by! We’d use La Manna more if it was closer, for sure. As it is, we have a new place opening nearby in Seddon soon that I’ve been told will try for the same sort of approach, only on a lesser scale.

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  7. Visited LaManna when they first opened and went back last week and its completely different! So much has changed, there is now a deli and patisserie, and the cafe is a lot bigger! ( i remember visiting and the coffee wasn’t that great, but they must of changed the type of coffee because the coffee was fantastic when i was there last week) the chicken ciabatta was so yummy too! the fruit & veggies were of amazing quality! my strawberries lasted over 6 days in the fridge! will definitely make lamanna my weekly shopping trip! the atmosphere is amazing!

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  8. I think it might be time you revisited LaManna and gave a new review. If you have not already revisited I can assure you, you will be very pleasantly surprised. A lot has changed at LaManna since your review.

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    • Hi Kim! I’ve actually spent quite a bit of time – and some money – there this year, because I was working at Airport West. So I often went to La Manna for breakfast, coffee or to get something for lunch later on – anything to avoid being tempted by the charmless shopping centre. La Manna is, indeed, quite a lot different. If we lived nearby, we’d be regulars. These days I’m at Keilor for work so La Manna isn’t viable.

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  9. You missed the deli next to the cafe !! As well as the pre-packaged deli items you mentioned in your post, you can also have freshly cut deli meats, cheeses and olives served by the deli staff.

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