Tag Archive for: Sunday roast

A Christmas pudding with custard is an unlikely adjunct to a Sunday lunch at a restaurant trumpeting its allegiance to ‘Modern Middle Eastern-influenced dining and bar culture’, but then a main of plain roast lamb hardly counts as a shawarma either. 

Yet who the hell cares about sticking exactly to the brief when both dishes taste so good? Michelin has been swift to recognise the talent of head chef Craig Rutherford and his Habas team, manifesting the long-term vision of Simon Shaw (below) to expand eastwards from his Iberian-inspired El Gato Negro and Canto.

The orangey, spicy pud was a seasonal special on a menu significantly short on turkey and sprouts, though the warm, exotically cluttered 200-cover basement would be ideal for a festive gathering without all the predictable trimmings.

Let’s call the Christmas pudding an honorary Levantine treat. After all, when the dish originated in the 14th century it was made with hulled wheat, boiled in milk, seasoned with cinnamon and coloured with saffron. Familiar spices from the Middle East to the fore and what started as a plain dish was soon augmented with mutton, raisins, currants, prunes, figs, ground almonds and further spices – savoury and sweet touches that feel decidedly Middle Eastern.

Lamb, not mutton, represents Habas’ Sabbath roast of choice for £17. Across the table it arrives as generous slices of seared half shoulder, tender and pink. The regional remit kicks in with the accompaniments. Labneh (creamy strained Greek yoghurt) brings a delicacy to cauliflower cheese, there’s a sticky oomph to the carrots thanks to sumac and orange honey, while the solid roasted spuds are lifted by black garlic and mint. Oh yes and thankfully not a Yorkshire pudding in sight.

Roasted squash and sautéed kale understandably replace cauli cheese as sides for my vegan alternative – harissa roasted cauliflower (£15). Sumac? Harissa? For those of you unfamiliar with the output of one Yotam Ottolenghi there’s a glossary prefix to the menu. Even I, a devotee of Persian dried black limes, barberries and golpar, have to double check what zhug is.

My daughter and I had kicked off with a £10.50 mezze platter that really did showcase the quest for authenticity that drove chef patron Simon Shaw’s recces in Lebanon and the cuisine-in-exile cafes of London. The hummus is as good as it gets with the  baba ganoush and whipped labneh not far behind. The breads were less impressive, the toasted lavosh brittle, the tiny pittas and the flatbread hosting crumbled halloumi and za’atar (a separate dish for £4) lacking a certain fluffiness.

Maybe Habas suffers in comparison with London big hitters in the field such as Palomar or Barbary but it has settled into the groove it promised. Likewise stablemate Canto in Ancoats, whose initial promise was Portuguese cuisine but which had to swiftly recalibrate as ‘Mediterranean tapas’. I loved my return recently. There is no such miscomprehension, I feel, about this latest Shaw project in the old Panama Hatty’s site. 

One guarantee at any of the restaurants: octopus will be done well. At Habas it was a toss-up for an ‘intermezzo’ between a long-standing fave, filo ‘cigars’ stuffed with feta cheese, wilted spinach and sunblush tomato, and the chargrilled octopus (£12), curled up inside a bed of smoked aubergine and tomato. Utterly gorgeous, it’s the kind of small plate, along with spot-on service, that must have impressed the Michelin inspectors inside five months of the restaurant (and its bolthole of a bar) opening. We’ll have to wait and see whether it will be garlanded with a Bib Gourmand like El Gato or a Plate like Canto. I suspect the latter.

It being lunchtime we snubbed the inviting bar and its cocktail list (Middle Eastern inspired naturally) in favour of a light red. Well, that was the plan. Our Ribas del Cúa Joven 2018 (£27) from Northern Spain offered a juicy riot of red and black fruits on nose and palate as you’d expect from the Mencia grape. As a Joven I anticipated it would be on the light side. Not so. 14.5 per cent, yet it didn’t feel a bruiser. Main supplier is the estimable Miles Corish of Milestone and all wines on the list are available by the glass in various sizes – apart from the show-off fizzes and the 1998 Chateau Musar, legendary red from Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley (one of the staging points on Simon Shaw’s journey towards Habas, as it happens. 

£110 and the Musar is yours. Alternatively for Sunday lunch you may bring your own wine for just £5 corkage on all bottles. Another big plus from this obvious labour of love in difficult times. Fi sihtuk! (cheers in Arabic)

Habas, 43a Brown Street, Manchester M2 2JJJ. 0161 470 9375. Monday-Sunday 12pm-late; food service until 10pm.

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 reservations@cantorestaurant.com or call 0161 870 5904.