Some years back I spent a weekend at a farm outside Lisbon. It was run by Maria, a widow in her 60s, with the strength of a bull and the wit of a fox. She told me about her yearly holiday to Spain with her pals. Knowing the traditional rivalry between these Iberian neighbours, I asked her how she found the food. “It’s great,” she said. “We bring our own.” She told me this as we drank homemade wine and cooked 300 Croquetas Bacalao for a party. It was my only visit to Portugal but the tenacity and humour of Maria will stay with me forever.
With this in mind, I ordered the Croquetas Bacalao at Canto, the Portuguese restaurant in the up and coming Cutting Room Square in Ancoats. I am with The Blonde this light Friday evening. It has been a long week and we are vigorously discussing the difference between the Socratic method of learning and the Bauhausian approach. Thankfully, we end it before the swearing begins and as the bottle of Lago arrives.
Lago is an excellent vinho verde, easy and refreshing with a slight fizz. Relaxed order is restored as we settle down to the delicious croquetas which we pair with a plate of Twiggy-thin Iberico ham and olives marinated in thyme and orange. Foods luxuriant doth eviscerate the vexes, as they say. Actually, I just made that up, but it could as easily be Shakespearean or some such.
The mains of Cod Pil Pil, Shellfish Rice with Mussels and Polenta with spinach, manchego cheese and a perfectly executed poached egg come with smiles and cheerful bonhomie. They have obviously upped their game since the Jay Rayner review. I re-read his comments. Something must have got his knickers in a twist and a Manchester bee in bonnet as this is a fine dining experience to savour. The cod was mouth-wateringly tender and the shellfish so splendid that I selfishly ate most of it. The Blonde was so taken with the polenta and poached egg that she requested a plate of bread to mop it up like the true Northern lass she is.
We happily found that the small plate portions are deceptive and that we were full. We still had room to share a rather wonderful Portuguese custard tart that finished the night in fine Iberian fashion. I really liked Canto and I hope it flourishes. The staff were welcoming, friendly and knowledgeable so up yours Jay. The food was refreshingly different from most of the Spanish fare that dominates Manchester city centre. Canto, you would have made Maria proud.