Back in the day, folk would have many reasons to head to the Manchester district of Ancoats, but the promise of modern Portuguese cuisine was never one of them. Over towards the New Islington development and a near neighbour to Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza, a new restaurant called Canto has now sprung up to offer exactly that.
It’s a light, open space which could even pass for a Mediterranean vibe in Summer, currently dominated by a ginormous Christmas tree (not that it matters, but the musical playlist, heavy on The Beatles and classic rock, says drivetime radio rather than the Iberian wilds). The menu promises ‘our take on classic Portuguese family favourites’ and they all come as small dishes, so tapas is a decent reference point.
Two to three dishes per person is the ordering suggestion. Were we greedy? Yes. Yes, we were. And hooray for that, because this is seriously good stuff. It’s all exceedingly fresh and done with evident skill. The pollen bakery sourdough bread started things off on a classy note, supplied as it was with light, tasty whipped butter. The heritage tomato salad was a varied, pleasantly tart selection while the asas de frango – boneless chicken wings with crispy shallots and sansho pepper – were delicious, full of flavour right up to the shallots which were not unlike mini-onion rings, except, y’know, actually nice.
The two round smoked sausage croquetas could have gone either way. Again, croquettes can be supremely bland, but these were surprisingly subtle and creamy. They both came topped with a dollop of black garlic mayonnaise, which was a perfect accompaniment once we’d got over the fact that sitting there on the plate they strongly resembled, well, a pair of tits.
The chargrilled pork chop was one of the heartier options, and delicious it was too, presented in fine slices on a rich, stewy, flavoursome bed of white beans, chorizo and pancetta. It was a highlight of the meal, along with the grilled squid. In unwary hands squid can come out tough and underwhelming, but here it was done just right and deemed to be gorgeously well cooked and tender. Complete with tangy, jammy tomato and onion sauce and spring onion tempura, the only lingering question was the identity of the crisp black item around it. Undoubtedly it wasn’t burnt, but it wasn’t entirely clear if it was meant to be eaten so to be on the safe side, we didn’t.
We had room, just about, to have the toucinho do céu – almond tart with mascarpone mousse – which was the right decision. It was delightfully chewy without being cloyingly sweet. The service was uniformly friendly and helpful, and the food was fine fare indeed. Aside from a few stray thoughts, what’s not to like? So, there you have it: Canto is a grand new establishment and a welcome addition to the neighbourhood.
Canto, Cutting Room Square, Blossom Sreet, Manchester