The philosopher Julian Baggini, considering rules in the kitchen, proposes a category of dishes called SIVs (Simple but Infinitely Variable) for various cuisines. The English exemplar is the Roast Dinner. Meat joint, root veg, roasties, Yorkies, gravy, condiments. There are only so many ways you can assemble this Sunday centrepiece and yet… nothing beats everybody’s Mum’s. Or if you’re into culinary dereliction, the congealing hotplate offering in your pub carvery.
I’ve written recently about the Sunday roast route for restaurants and its perils as a paradigm of Englishness. Imagine my surprise then when out of leftfield came a decision by Canto in Ancoats decision to push, alongside its Mediterranean tapas menu, a classic Sabbath selection of half roast chicken, beef sirloin or pork belly.
You won’t find roasts at Simon Shaw’s sister restaurants, El Gato Negro (Spanish) and Habas (Middle Eastern), but then Canto has alway felt slight hybrid since the initial concept as a homage to Portuguese food was ditched. Shame on the Manchester public for not buying into this distinctive Iberian cuisine.
The coup for Canto was installing Carlos Gomes as head chef. Porto-born, as it happens, he’s a former head chef at the original Barrafina in Soho, which gained a Michelin star for its Spanish small plates. His Canto menu is basically that too, the only remaining nod to Portugal a few wines, an octopus dish and the irresistible pastel de nata custard tarts.
An image I was sent of the Sunday pork belly almost convinced me to drop my prejudice against trad roasts, but the rest of the gallery had me salivating towards the Carlos’s new autumn/winter menu, launched at the same time. I didn’t regret it. Sampled early evening as a deluge sent the Cutting Room Square crowd scuttling for cover, it was the best array of dishes we’ve eaten at Canto and a couple were a real knock-out. If comfort food can count as a knock-out?
In showbiz you save the star turn till last; so it was with the braised ox cheek, crispy pancetta, celeriac and horseradish puree with kale (£11), a slow-cooked master work to blow any simple roast out of the oven.
A similar intensity of flavour was present in one of the ‘warm-up’ acts. Jamon croquetas are my gooey crumbed balls of choice, but a swirl of black garlic mayo elevated a mushroom-filled version to umami heights (£6).
Not far behind were griddled cod with a black olive crust and confit potatoes (£9) and caramelised cauliflower in tomato and harissa spiced bean stew (£5.50), both soothing and seasonal in feel.
Octopus is a staple of North West Spain (pulpo) and Northern Portugal (polvo). Here for £10, a substantial tentacle was served Portuguese lagareiro style, baked with spuds. Not subtle but cephalopod dishes rarely are.
Canto is dog-friendly and trying tiny chunks of octopus was a first for our chihuahua, Captain Smidge. He loved it almost as much as the Italian meatballs in an almondy tomato sauce with parmesan shavings (£8) we ordered with him in mind, but he snubbed the roasted beetroot with ajo blanco sauce (£5.50). Watching his waistline, we were frugal with our contributions of carrot cake and pastel de nata.
We ordered my favourite red on the wine list, from Dao in Portugal (where else?). The Quinta do Correio Tinto 2018 offers a riot of dark berry fruit, herbs and a beguiling smokiness. It’s a bargain at £37 a bottle (also available by the glass). Come to think of it, it would be a perfect partner for a Sunday roast.
Canto, Cutting Room Square, Blossom Street, Manchester M4 5DH.
Now open Wednesday and Thursday 5pm-11pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm-12am and Sunday 12pm-11pm. The Sunday Roast menu offers two courses for £23 and three for £27, while on Saturdays ‘Tipsy Tapas’, provides great value, with three select dishes and unlimited Cava, Bellinis or house wine for 90 minutes at £35pp. It’s available from 12pm to 3pm until November 8, when the restaurant’s festive offer will officially launch. To make a reservation contact email@example.com or call 0161 870 5904.