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