Restaurant review - El Gato Negro Tapas, Manchester
PUBLISHED: 13:01 17 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:39 20 April 2016
Â© Joby Catto 2016
El Gato Negro has just opened in Manchester. This Spanish-style tapas restaurant - its name means black cat - needs no luck. The owners have assembled the ingredients for success, writes Ray King
In the normal course of events, discovering that one’s first three choices from a menu aren’t available and it’s still just 7.45pm on a Thursday evening might go down as irritating. But this wasn’t the normal course of events, as it was only day four since one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in Manchester city centre...that of Simon Shaw’s celebrated tapas restaurant, El Gato Negro.
The complex move from a former pub in Happy Valley’s Ripponden, where Shaw launched the venture back in 2005, to its new home in a three-storey former fashion shop in King Street had in any case taken months longer than planned. The original Manchester opening was scheduled for last October - creating a clamour for tables during the first week which is no doubt continuing. For Shaw’s expertise at creating simple yet bold flavoured tapas dishes has earned him a shedload of accolades, not least coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand awards in 2014 and 2015.
The ambience of the King Street restaurant is authentically Spanish, with lots of stripped back brick walls, tiles, striking artworks and recycled wood from the ground-floor bar with its towering bottle-laden shelves to the narrow first-floor dining area housing both banquette seating and the bustling open kitchen. The sliding roof over the top floor bar will made this one of the city’s most sought after summer rendezvous.
So: no anchovy fillets on crostini, no lamb skewers with spiced chickpea purée and harissa and no braised ox cheek either. Fortunately, however, there’s nothing on El Gato’s menu - featuring ‘Para Picar’ snacks, an extensive range of top-notch charcuterie, chargrilled meat, fish and vegetables from the josper grill and more familiar tapas - that seemed less than an absolute pleasure to eat. And so it turned out.
We nibbled on plump marinated olives with chilli, lemon, garlic and rosemary (£3.50) and relished a succession of plates bearing impeccable ingredients yielding exciting, bold flavours. Manchego cheese slices came with delicious bittersweet green figs (£8) in glorious taste harmony; just-so classic meatballs (£7.50) and waxy patatas bravas shared the same, warmly piquant tomato fritarda sauce. Instead of the lamb we had the recommended Pinchos Morunos, skewers of pork marinated in Moorish spices and finished on the josper (£8.50); very tender and flavoursome.
Both our fishy tapas were stand-out dishes: fillet of line-caught hake, white, firm and creamy (so much more to it than cod but the Spanish nick most of it!) was partnered with smooth parsley sauce and buttered new potatoes (£11) and the meaty tiger prawns, their tails conveniently shelled, were dressed with chilli, garlic and paprika (£8.50).
We finished in fine style by sharing divine turrón cheesecake, soft and delicious with honey and almonds, served with caramel sauce (£6) and toasted a hearty salud! to this long-awaited culinary newcomer with our remaining fresh and zingy white Azafram Airen-Sauvignon Blanc (£17 the bottle, £4.95 for 175ml).
El Gato Negro Tapas, 52 King Street, Manchester M2 4LY. Tel: 0161 694 8585. www.elgatonegrotapas.com