As I write this, we’re about a fortnight away from six months into lockdown. I’m still not exactly sure of the rules as Matt Hancock and his cronies play hide-and-seek with our very own Andy Burnham and the North West has more COVID-19 spikes than a punk hairdo.
I know it’s nearly six months as it happened on the eve of The Blonde’s birthday, March 23, and we had to postpone our anniversary dinner. Now we’re on the eve of another celebration and I’m not going to let her down again. A decade ago we went on our first date to see Toy Story 3 and the rest, as they say, is history.
To mark our tin anniversary, we went to Canto in Ancoats, Manchester. It’s a Portuguese/Spanish tapas hybrid and an offshoot of El Gato Negro on King Street. As a space, I really like it. It has a long, open kitchen, COVID-19 compliant screened booths, a good view of the bustle of Cutting Room Square and as a happy-staff-as-a-furlough will allow. It also helps that the food is tasty. The Blonde starts with a celebratory glass of cava, me with a simple half of lager. By her own admission, she isn’t much of a drinker, so I find myself drinking for two. Drinking out to help out. With this in mind, I order a refreshing bottle of Lago vinho verde to go with our selection of small plates. The vinho verde has a light fizz and a citrus finish, perfect for the late-summer sunshine.
Friendly Alex brings our food at timely intervals to let us savour the Iberian flavours. We start with plates of croquettas, mushroom and salt cod. It’s a reminder that we would normally be in Barcelona at this time of year. Canto is the closest we’ll get for a while and, as substitutes go, it’s pretty good. Our mains of Mediterranean prawns in garlic and chilli and a steak sandwich called a ‘Prego’, come with good humour as The Blonde hits her third glass of wine. There will be a sorry heid in the morning, possibly two, but who cares. It’s not every day you celebrate 10 years of love, laughs and a few tears on the way.
We are serenaded by Cat Stevens and Johnny Cash with Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis to put us in a thoughtful mood and wonder where the years went. The prawns are good and sticky as they should be. I found the caco bread, the ‘Prego’, a little bland and heavy, but the steak was tender, sweetened by caramelised onions and spiced by a peppery watercress. The prawn juices were mopped up with a side order of Catalan pan con tomate in true northern style. As happy and full as we are, as well as a little tipsy, we have room for a traditional Pastel de Nata, a Portuguese custard tart supported by a creamy sliver of toasted barley ice cream. The tart is soft and sweet, and washed down with a sobering cortado.
It was a fine dinner worthy of our anniversary, and Canto will always be a favourite. It is a difficult time and an uncertain future lies ahead, but I’m looking forward to the next 10 years with The Blonde. To infinity and beyond.