This week owner of El Gato Negro, Simon Shaw, set up shop just off Cutting Room Square, and we got a sneak preview of the sort of food you can expect to see from his new Portuguese venture.
Considering the influence that the country’s explorers have had on what we eat all around the globe, Portugal is relatively unrepresented when it comes to venues actually serving their cuisine.
Head Chef Carlos Gomes hopes to change all that with a menu that celebrates some of the amazing produce and techniques the region has brought to the world.
True to form though, just as you’ll struggle to find too many culinary cliches at sister restaurant El Gato, Canto resists the opportunity to play things too obvious.
One thing they will be doing though, is making the most of the excellent local suppliers in the area such as bread from Ancoats bakery Pollen. We began there and enjoyed a few toasted slices alongside a lightly smoked butter.
After proving he knew his way around a leg of ham, Gomes set to work showing off some of the other influences he’s picked up over his impressive ten year career, which saw him put in a stint Japanese restaurant Koya down in London.
You could say our next dish of salt cod and onion tempura brought things full circle. It’s said that particular method of light deep frying was introduced to the Japanese by Portuguese traders, so it seems only fair to cook bacalhau that way.
Deviously moreish, with more than a bit of bhaji about it, a dig below the surface also revealed a sort of light gazpacho- clever stuff.
If that was fusion food then our next plate proved pure Lisbon. The city is packed with little pasties and fried goods, mostly containing something caught from the sea. A few of these prawn filled turnovers and a few more Super Bocks would be my idea of an afternoon well spent.
The most delicate seafood escabeche arrived next, playfully served in a tin but somehow seemingly quite elegant nonetheless.
At this point it all got a bit much and I dropped my knife, as luck would have it though you could’ve slipped a spoon straight through the octopus.
Smears of garlic and parsley sauce, crushed potatoes and the sweet acidic crunch of pickled onions completed a real standout plate.
When I first read the menu they pretty much had me at octopus and pork belly. These chubby little slices crowned with a golden brown layer of rather well-looked-after fat didn’t let anyone down either.
Cooked in the traditional Bairrada way with lard and white pepper, it sounds a little odd but really works a treat.
And finally a nod to Nando’s? Our last savoury flavours brought chargrilled chicken, but that was where any comparison ended.
A sticky, spicy sauce of tangy Savora mustard and grated fried potato coupled with a bowl of miso roasties made for a really clever and enticing combination.
For dessert it had to be Pasteis de Nata of course, the perfect little bites of pastry and custard are pretty much everything a pud can be. They should probably put these on the Portuguese flag if you ask me.
Following that, another primarily yolk-based concoction also got people talking, Pudim Adabe de Priscos is not much like anything I’ve ever tried before, and it’s one of those things you’re just going to have find out about for yourself.
Canto, Fairbairn House, Fairbairn Unit A, Henry St, Manchester, M4 5DH
0161 870 5904