Jonathan Schofield gets to grips with clever clam shells and glorious octopus tentacles

THIS is an instant classic. Canto has cantered into the happy hunting grounds of Ancoats and decanted a captivating cup of cunning.

Yeah, yeah, I know, a bit over the top, but come on, every food review needs a flourish of purple prose. In Canto’s case the restaurant deserves it.

This was a thoroughly excellent meal with a balance between the strong and steady and the refined and the surprising. Just take the clams (£10), a gorgeously colourful collection of shells, flesh, olive oil, garlic and coriander. The flavours were big and full, the clam flesh delicious, and tantalising as your extracted the little beast. The oil with garlic and coriander required use of the clam shells as Hobbit spoons to drink it down. 

The absolutely peak of the cooking came with the glorious octopus tentacle...

The bread was a good dunker too, from the estimable Pollen bakery, and came with a fluffy rich butter, whipped and slightly smoked (£3.50). I also used a clam shell or two to scoop up the butter and eat it without the intervention of any form of dough-based item. It’s amazing what you can do with a clam shell.

2018 10 10 Canto Exterior
Canto on Cutting Room Square

Canto restaurant is Portuguese in inspiration or rather ‘Modern Portuguese’ as opposed, one supposes, to ‘Ancient Portuguese’ or ‘Portuguese from between the years of 1954 and 1964’. It’s the sister restaurant to one of my favourite restaurants in the North West, El Gato Negro on King Street. The chef is a man called Carlos Gomes - formerly of the much-lauded Barrafina - and he’s very good.

The absolutely peak of the cooking came with the glorious octopus tentacle (£10) on some roasted potatoes with a magical garlic sauce and some pickles. The timing on the octopus was fabulous, it was tender, yet bursting with freshness and firmness. The pickles in a parsley gel on the plate added colour and contrast.

2018 10 10 Canto Clams
Canto clams
2018 10 10 Canto Octopus
Glorious octopus tentacle

The salt cod and onion tempura (£5) were good fun sitting in a tomato broth that I would have preferred with a little more seasoning. The potatoes (£4.5), again roasted, with a miso-type layering, were moreish and good bolstering for the meal. 

The chargrilled chicken (£8.50) was another essay in timing, with a great balance in the meat. A beetroot salad (£7.50) with a cheesy topping was unspectacular but a necessary mood change in the meal.

2018 10 10 Canto Potatoes
Canto potato miso
2018 10 10 Canto Chicken
Canto pollo

These are big ‘small plates’, so between two of us that was quite enough. For completion sake we shared a dessert of poached pears in red wine (£7.50) with a dollop of the ice cold good stuff as well. Again, a very skilful dish yet with a reassuring solidity and a very necessary sweetness. 

A white wine had accompanied the meal and this was part of the experience. The organic Vinha da Malhada (£31) was anything but the usual wine-by-numbers Sauvignon, Pinot etc... but came from local Portuguese grape varietals which gave it personality.

2018 10 10 Canto Beetroot
Beetroot salad with cheesy topping
2018 10 11 Canto Review Img 04903
Poached pears in red wine

The room in Canto is satisfying and chic, and with clever use of tilework, from local lad Mark Kennedy. The fake beams on the ceiling make it feel suitably Iberian. This is despite the fact the restaurant sits under a multi-storey car park. The service is very good, obviously the training has worked.

Ancoats keeps getting better. You can tell by the quality of the operators turning up around Cutting Room Square. We have a real food and drink destination here now. The scale of the buildings and their densely packed nature adds to the atmosphere of the area, while the arrival of Canto is a huge vote of confidence in the area. I left a perfectly satisfied customer, gathering up the clam shells as I went and wondering what I could use them for next. A necklace maybe. Or a very quiet football rattle. 

Canto, Cotton St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 5DH. Tel: 0161 870 5904 

2018 10 10 Canto Interior 2

The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 8/10

    clams 8.5, bread and butter 8, beetroot 7.5, octopus 9, chicken 8, tempura 7.5, pears 7.5

  • Service 3.5/5

    Competent and generally knowledgeable

  • Ambience 4.5/5

    Early doors Tuesday and already starting to buzz