Mr and Mrs Cantor exhibited either a great love for early cinema or a highly developed sense of humour when they named their son. The Eddy Cantor behind Cantor’s Food Store in Chorlton, the Manchester suburb that hasn’t met a progressive cause it didn’t like, lacks the original’s brilliantined hair or goggle eyes. In photographs the modern one looks dark and brooding and very severely bearded. He does a great stare into the middle distance, full of longing and insight, as befits a man who almost made it in the music business, or who apparently once played a Greek fisherman in a Boots ad. Back in the day he was the resident cook on the Big Breakfast. He has lived many lives, has this Eddy Cantor.
Now he has a restaurant which draws loosely on his Jewish roots. It even offers a salt beef plate, which the other Eddie Cantor, the “Apostle of Pep”, might well have appreciated. We’ll come to that in a moment, because the food needs a bit of unpacking. Sometimes, though, you have to consider a restaurant less as a collection of its parts and more in the round. On that score Cantor’s Food Store wins. It’s a happy place, where you could mislay an afternoon or a morning or, if you put the two together, a whole day. There are fairy lights strung along the bar. There are butterfly installations and the ceiling is hung with every single type of lampshade your grandmother ever owned. There are flouncy ones and tasselled ones and early 70s ones. Individually they are dreadful. Together they make you laugh.
Many nights they have live music. The bongos are stored over by the front windows, and the mixing desk is next to where the pizza guy does his thing. There is also a locally conscious cocktails list which includes a Vimto Sour. I order it because, if they’ve gone to the trouble of inventing it, I should go to the trouble of drinking it. The thudding artificial sweetness of the confectionery counter, the high fruitiness, the medicinal aftertaste: it’s all there. This really is a boozy cocktail flavoured with Vimto so, obviously, it’s awful. But no matter: they also have a nice Picpoul de Pinet at £23 to wash away the taste, so everyone is happy.
The food makes me happy, too. There is a long, deli-style counter filled with big-shouldered salads, with ambitions to be your grown-up dinner. Order well and you can try all of them. Originally, you had to do this at the counter, but now they have a cheery waiter who doesn’t flinch when you ask for too much. The salt beef plate is £11. Is the salt beef itself an exemplar? Not quite. It is thick cut and comes fat on, so they get top marks for that, but it is a little dry. I’ll let that slide, because I love the thin, crisp latkes that come with it, the seriously crunchy new green pickles and the pickled cucumber salad. There is a heavily mayo-bound coleslaw made with red cabbage, which has turned it the colour of a blackcurrant Ski yogurt. Looks aren’t everything. It, too, has bite and vigour.
Just as I did at Tish a couple of weeks ago, I have reference points for this food: overheated living rooms in St John’s Wood mansion blocks, the table groaning with dishes for a late afternoon tea, because it is imperative you eat; relatives I was not quite sure I’d ever met before, gossiping about other relatives I was certain I’d never heard of. It is the call of familiar Mittel-European flavours, and I can’t help but bow my head towards them, fondly. And then later, open my gob.
Don’t let the falafel detain you. Falafel needs to be straight out of the deep-fat fryer, or not at all. These are most definitely not at all. But again, there’s so much to love about the support acts here that you’ll forgive them: a silky hummus with a peppery, piquant kick, a crunchy raw cauliflower salad dribbled with the high aromatics of a green herb dressing and, most striking of all, a rice salad. Every long slender grain sits free from every other. It is intensely savoury and nutty.
We also order the medium mixed salad, so as to empty the rest of the deli counter, and worry about what the large serving would look like. There are thick, caramelised discs of roasted and spiced aubergine, pelted with crystal jewels of pomegranate seed, and a broccoli salad with the butch, insistent kick of fresh red chilli. It’s all very Ottolenghi with a Manc accent. Somewhere along the way Cantor’s decided this wasn’t quite enough and so installed a pizza oven and a man who knows how to make something to put in them at around £12 a pop, the price point of choice. The two menus meet in the Reuben pizza, topped with mustard crème fraîche (rather than a tomato sauce), salt beef, sauerkraut and new green pickles. It’s an interesting idea, but I wasn’t quite in the mood for interesting, and instead had the diavola, piled with pepperoni and chilli flakes. It’s a serious sourdough crust, generously heat-blistered, and pleasingly crusted with crushed grains.
Leave room for dessert. They have a Kurdish pastry chef who comes in a few times a week, to make blissful concoctions out of cream and sugar. They are of a sort familiar to anyone who has ever spent too much time around the cake shops along London’s Green Lanes. There is a snowy meringue cake, which looks like the rococo cornicing in a Florentine palazzo, all curls and spirals. I expect it to be crisp-shelled but it is instead the soft airy delight of Swiss meringue, layered with whipped cream. It is like eating clouds. Our waiter also recommends “the coconut slice thing”. I ask if it has a name. She shrugs. “It’s just the coconut slice thing, a bit like a panna cotta on really crisp pastry.” And that description does the job. Try it. With coffee, mid-afternoon, because it’s cold and you need one.
When I called earlier in the evening to check whether they had space for us, they said, mournfully: “Yes, we can fit you in. Sadly, we don’t do that much business mid-week. You will be well cared for.” Along with the two or three other tables, that is indeed what happened. All the other tables should have been filled, too.
After my recent review of Tish, various people directed me to B&K Salt Beef Bar in Edgware. It has a venerable history. One founder was Bambos Georgiou, who started in Soho in the 1950s, before launching the Brass Rail for Selfridges and then Jerry’s in Edgware. That became B&K. Today’s menu includes a two-course lunch deal of perhaps chopped liver followed by salt beef for £12.50 (bksaltbeefbar.com).
A burger bar in Sheffield, which garnered complaints on social media because of the names of some of its dishes, has been closed by its landlords who said rents had not been paid. Menu options at Randy’s Hardcore Hamburgers included the ‘Casting couch’, the ‘fake taxi’ and the ‘Weinstein’. Enough said.
Two much-admired Bristol restaurants, Wallfish Bistro and Wellbourne, have merged. Wallfish & Wellbourne Bistro, trades from the original site of the Wellbourne part in Clifton Village. The interior remains the same, but the menu fuses the two restaurants and now includes an oyster station.