Canto, Fairbairn Unit A, Fairbairn Building, Henry Street, Manchester, M4 5DH – Visit Now
Canto is the latest restaurant from one of Manchester’s chef-restaurateur leading lights, Simon Shaw, founder of acclaimed tapas restaurant El Gato Negro. He’s teamed up with Porto-born head chef Carlos Gomes and together they’ve produced a menu of Portuguese courses that sound wonderfully authentic and stands out as markedly original in a city overflowing with unique dishes.
Markedly original in a city overflowing with unique dishes
At first glance, the menu looks short – just one page – but you’ll find a few dozen different dishes in there, split into five sections: small starters, meat, fish, vegetarian and dessert. It’s advised that six dishes are enough for two people, but we soon find that even this is enough for the most ravenous diner – the portions are impressively large considering the price.
Our charming host tells us the chicken wings are a must-try, and I’d be neglecting my duties if I didn’t pass this key information on. They’re remarkable. Hot chicken wings, crushed into flat circles, marvellously salt and resting on a scattering of deep-fried scallops. They won’t appear on Weight Watchers any time soon but if you have a penchant for the humble wing, they’re an absolute must.
The octopus is not for the squeamish
The octopus is one of Canto’s most famed dishes, and more than one person unrelated to Canto has raved about it. It’s a startling dish, with no attempt made to disguise what it is – an alien-like creature from uncharted waters, covered in suckers and looking fresh enough to leap off the plate like my name is Ripley. It’s not for the squeamish. Of course, it tastes phenomenal – firm-yet-tender white flesh, lightly seasoned, curled up around an array of baby onions and crinkled-up roasted new potatoes. If you’re a seafood-lover and pass on this, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
The polenta dish is more divisive. The polenta itself is delicious, a thick slab of crisped cornmeal, soft and fluffy on the inside; and the poached egg is perfect – watching the yolk ooze out is an experience in itself – but the manchego cheese is overpowering, to a fault. And there’s a lot of it. This is the kind of coagulated milk you smell long before you see it – it’s a body blow for the olfactory senses. If you like your cheese strong enough to make your eyes water, you’ll be in stinky heaven, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The miso-glazed carrots are more delicate, thankfully. The carrots are soft and sweet, with a subtle umami shimmer, and while they’re probably not worth a special visit in their own right, they’re a good counterpoint for the heavy meat and fish courses.
Speaking of which, lamb skewers with teriyaki sauce might sound like an odd choice for a Portugese menu, but don’t be fooled – these are more like a kofta kebab than anything Japanese-influenced. The meat is soft and rich with seasoning. Each bite feels like an increase in waist size, and worth it. A handful of wild mushrooms add to the dark earthy flavour.
The pig cheek is good too, but by this point, the sheer heft and flavour of the other dishes have floored our tastebuds, so it doesn’t hit quite as hard as it should. The meat is tender, and the gravy rich and thick, but the dish feels out of place – it’s more of a Sunday lunch main course than a small plate. If you’re going to get this, pair it with the carrots and nothing else, for full impact.
Ancoats has become one of Manchester’s leading food destinations and Canto has a well-deserved place in the line-up. The food has been adapted and refined since its launch, bringing the quality up several notches. It’s something of a bargain too – the portions are generally huge and the prices low. Even better, Canto has recently launched an early-evening offer of three dishes for £15, meaning you can fill your boots for a pocket-friendly price point.