When you walk into Canto, it looks (and feels) like a delectably well-done upscale Italian restaurant with a classy NY vibe. The colours are breezy green, digital blow-ups on the walls of women playing by the beach with birds and airy drapes by arched French windows that make this a fabulous date spot. The bar – on the other hand – is 70’s Chicago, done up in dazzling reflecting surfaces, low lights, lush couches for special groups (one set aside at the corner – quite cinematically – where, in gangster films, the boss generally meets his associates while his moll plays with his tie, their cigar smoke curling thickly under the yellow light) and a DJ console for the rowdy young ones. You know that after the sun sets, the jackets come off, ties are undone and this has the potential for becoming the city’s new watering hole for the evolved ones.
To begin with, Canto has an excellent bar – and team of mixologists. The cocktails are excellent, striking the right balance of taste and heady. Whisky drinkers should definitely try the Smoky Tango (a carnival of whisky, vanilla, chocolate bitters and an absinthe rinse) and the Espressivo (masala tea, cranberries, elder flower and lime – say what?) I would personally also recommend the Rococo – possibly one of the fastest cocktails I have had – a wicked concoction of vodka, coconut puree, pineapple and lime with a buttered date and raspberry foam. The martini glass was rimmed like a Lamington. If only the Canto bar ditches that DJ console and starts hosting live jazz and blues musicians, I have found my second home.
But, if I have to make a place my “usual”, it has to blow me away with the food. And that is the department where Canto fails miserably. The menu is a confused mix of Indian fusion (someone kill this trend please), fast food and meal bowls with zero authenticity or individual identity. The Malai Chicken Sambusa was bland, the Chermoula Prawns just felt like boiled prawns doused in green street chutney and the Prawn Tempura (good attempt) and Chicken Thai Curry Baos were, well, meh. Nothing memorable. The Asian Salad was packed with just blunt spice, the balance of sweet and tangy missing. The Mushroom Parcels with thyme and goat cheese were saving grace but the Lamb Galouti Dim Sums were an act of cruelty against humanity. There was nothing galouti about the meat. The dim sum skins were unevenly cooked. The platter was served with salsa. I have no idea why.
The burger-pizza-pasta menu is boring and generic (they actually have something called a “tomato cream pasta with pickled aubergine”). I decided to put them through the Khow Suey Test – and while they might not be the worst I have had, the curry was bland and thin with barely any flavours or aroma of galangal/kaffir/lemongrass. The Jambalaya was just a garam masala OD fest and should definitely be skipped. The restaurant also does not understand the concept of condiments and garnishes. They served a watered down chilli tartar sauce as dip for all their appetizers (and with the tempura bao). The chef also has a fascination for flash-fried okra, which is used to garnish an Asian salad AND a 4 Cheese Pasta dish.
The dessert menu reads like one from Birdy’s. Cheesecake, Lava Cake, Tiramisu, Crème Brulee and a crepe option – that’s all they’ve got. I wanted to ditch it altogether and head off to K. Rustoms but grudgingly ordered the Crème Brulee (a personal dessert test I put restaurants through – almost no one gets the consistency right). The sugar crust was too thick, the custard was too runny…why did I even bother?
Canto needs to revamp their menu and rethink their chefs immediately. Good job with the bar though, but if I don’t feel like having dessert at a place, there is no possibility of me coming back.
WHAT WE LIKE
The décor, the cocktails
WHAT WE DON’T
The food menu