“I fancy a date night,” my friend Lexi said to me one afternoon.
“Leave it with me babes,” I replied, having taken to using the endearment “babes” after hearing Jessie Ware use it as generously as her portion sizes.
One of my biggest thrills in life is taking my friends to restaurants I know they’ll simply love; watching them melt into a state of ease and seeing their excitement build as we make our way through the menu, waving goodbye to our waistlines as we order another round of bread and dripping – it’s how I show people I care, and as my passions go, it could come very close second to eating.
Rather than opting for a failsafe, I went rogue and opted for a restaurant which had been on my hit list for weeks, Canto – elegant, quaint and baby sibling of Manchester’s much loved El Gato Negro. As rogue-choices go, I knew that if the same genius that was behind El Gato had any kind of hand in this, this would be my most safest and delicious bet.
So off we pondered, down the cobbled streets of Ancoats – stopping outside the demure entrance and gliding into the elegant yet rustic space – clad in Portuguese tiles with a long pristine bar wrapping itself round the entrance of the kitchen.
We nestled into our booth seating, placing our orders for a Three Rivers G&T before getting cosy with the menu.
The surroundings were pleasant, the ambience comforting, homely but with just a dash of opulence about it. Our server Kiko, whose manner was as gorgeous as his hair; attended to our every need and smiled approvingly as we proceeded to order the entire left side of the menu.
First, Catalan bread served with olive oil, garlic and fresh tomato.
Bites which took me straight back to eating the very same on holiday in Spain, the crisp bread under the rich blanket of thick, garlicky tomato topping was simple yet sensational.
Jamón croquetas, Crispy fried baby squid with aioli, and Mushroom croquetas with black garlic mayo were added to our buffet of delights.
The mushroom croquetas were my personal favourites; packed with flavour, gloriously rich and encased perfectly in its crisp golden coat.
Jamón croquetas, good but overshadowed in my opinion by their veggie counterparts – but a lighter taste if you’re looking for something a little less rich.
The crispy fried baby squid was perhaps our least favourite – it would have been great to taste more of the chewy squid meat, which felt muted against the batter; however it did photograph marvellously:
Salt cod fritters with tartare sauce (before you ask, yes, we did feel the need to order every variation of fried food on the menu – all in the name of research).
The cod meat was seasoned and fried to perfection, they arrived still sizzling from the fryer, their light flavour contrasting beautifully with the zingy, fresh, homemade tartar sauce.
Heritage tomato & red onion salad with moscatel dressing, for health. Plump and sumptuous toms, bursting with flavour and a welcomed addition to the table.
Still not quite full enough, we ordered a bonus round of chargrilled peri peri chicken, and roasted potatoes with brava sauce and aioli.
The chicken was unbelievably tender; it’s soft, humble flavours spread its way across my palette, before the subtle kiss of chilli kicked it’s way in.
The potatoes were superb, a classic dish executed magnificently.
By this point I was 90% carbs and I was 100% happy about it.
Feeling powerless to resist the array of puds which had been teasing me since I first looked at the menu, I couldn’t allow myself to leave without trying the almond tart with mascarpone mousse.
A dessert which took me right back to my travels to Lisbon, this elevated delight re-gifted me my memories and took me back to when I ate the very same dish down an alley on the outskirts of the town (sounds seedy – it was sensational). A time-travelling tart and perfect end to our meal.
Canto most certainly met my expectations of how I wished the offspring of El Gato Negro would enhance my evening. From plates, to presence and its personable servers, it’ll be my future go-to for when I’m aching to be spoilt by rich tastes, cool surroundings and an ever-pleasing playlist of “Safety Dance” and other hits by Men Without Hats.
Try it, you’ll love it.