The ser­vice at Canto is like a com­edy rou­tine, but at these prices they re­ally are hav­ing a laugh

The Observer Magazine - - Food & Drink -


A few weeks ago my Guardian col­league Grace Dent won­dered whether the pan­tomime of a lousy restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence she’d had while re­view­ing in Berk­shire was some kind of hid­den cam­era gag set up by me. There were times dur­ing my meal at Canto in Manch­ester when I won­dered whether she’d set the whole thing up as some kind of grudge match. Then again, I sus­pect even she couldn’t be faffed to stage some­thing this tire­some.

The an­nounce­ment by the per­son on re­cep­tion that we couldn’t go to our ta­ble un­til our al­lot­ted time, de­spite so many of them be­ing un­oc­cu­pied, was, I sup­pose, rea­son­able. The re­fusal by the bar to put our pre-drinks on our din­ner bill – and no, she couldn’t just take a note for later, com­puter says no – was less so. There was the waiter who re­ally couldn’t tell us what the Por­tuguese word on the black­board ad­ver­tis­ing the hal­ibut spe­cial meant. And no, he had ab­so­lutely no idea where the salt­aged beef was from. Nor was he minded to ask.

He was re­placed by an­other waiter, who also didn’t know what the word meant but he could tell us that, any­way, that spe­cial wasn’t avail­able so it didn’t re­ally mat­ter. Hap­pily, he could tell us where the beef came from (sort of – some­where around Black­pool) but he wasn’t quite up to pour­ing the wine. It went ev­ery­where un­til I took over. And on it went, al­beit in a cheer­ful, friendly man­ner.

Peo­ple get up­set when I point out ser­vice fail­ings like e this. They think it’s un­fair to pick on the front of house. . I agree, be­cause I re­ally don’t blame them. It’s not their fault. It’s a fail­ure of train­ing which means, in turn, that t it’s a fail­ure of man­age­ment. Not that I can tell you who o that was. In a well-run restau­rant you should be able to o look up from your ta­ble and in about 90 sec­onds work out ex­actly who is in charge. At no point dur­ing our meal eal at Canto did I ever spot them. Muted chaos reigned.

My hope, for I al­ways travel hope­fully, was that the food would make up for the sins of ser­vice. The real sur­prise is that it did not. Canto is the sec­ond Manch­ester restau­rant from the team be­hind El Gato Ne­gro. For many years chef Si­mon Shaw’s Span­ish place ce was a se­ri­ous schlep away from al­most ev­ery­body save e its near­est neigh­bours, at Rip­pon­den in the val­leys of West York­shire. I made the trip to the old con­verted pub and adored the cook­ing: there were the spinach and mush­room cro­quet­tas, the seared scal­lops with chick­pea purée and chorizo, the monk­fish with crisped pancetta, the Syr­ian lentils heavy with cumin. A cou­ple of years ago they moved the restau­rant into Manch­ester. I didn’t 16 Blos­som Street, Manch­ester M4 5AN (0161 870 5904). Small plates £5-£11 Desserts £6

Wines from £21 (above) The lovely in­te­rior; and, left, not-so-lovely prawn turnover

‘The prawn turnover is a Fin­dus Crispy Pan­cake trib­ute act. There’s a place for those, but not here’

‘There is no deny­ing the beauty of the makeover’

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