El Gato Negro originally opened in 2005 and was located in an empty former pub in the Pennine village, Ripponden. The Chef Patron and Creative Director, Simon Shaw saw his restaurant grow in popularity, picking up a series of awards and accolades in its first year of being open. In 2009 El Gato Negro’s reputation grew further, winning best local Spanish restaurant in the country on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word. Reviews and listings continued to grow, as Simon refined a distinctive, bold and confident menu and style that was all his own. There were positive annual listings in the Good Food Guide; Hardens hailed El Gato Negro the ‘best tapas in the north’; The Times ranked it the number one tapas bar in the country; and finally the Michelin Guide awarded a prestigious Bib Gourmand to the restaurant in both 2014, 2015 and 2017.
In the autumn of 2014, El Gato Negro which simply means the black cat in Spanish announced plans it was to relocate to a beautifully refurbished building in the centre of Manchester which leads nicely to the restaurant’s current chapter, and the place I could not wait to visit…
My first interaction with El Gato Negro was trying to get a table which is not the easiest thing to do due to the number of people wanting to check out its incredible food and drinks menu. However, providing you plan a little ahead you should not have any issue at all. The restaurant does require that you confirm your booking via telephone a few days before your actually booked date which is something I totally understand, as there appears to be a growing number of rude people out there that fail to turn up to their bookings and don’t inform the restaurant. Anyway, I digress slightly. When you visit El Gato Negro you would be forgiven for being a little taken aback by the interior.
Upon entry to the bar area, you soon notice it is beautifully decorated and includes a large bar area that also has a small food preparation area where a member of the kitchen staff was preparing tapas for those that just want a drink and a try few nibbles such as the wide range of cured meats. It really does feel like those superb little tapas bars you get down the dark back streets of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona. After grabbing a seat and being served by the friendly staff member I decided to begin my tapas journey with a gin and tonic which was presented beautifully and certainly got me more intrigued about what would be on offer once I had moved upstairs to the restaurant.
Once shown upstairs I was seated in the top-floor cocktail lounge due to the restaurant being absolutely rammed busy. Trust me when I say this, it is definitely not a negative! The lounge is a true delight with some fine contemporary artwork situated over the bar, and the lounge has a fully retractable roof which can be opened on those warm summer nights. I am not sure how many of those we get in Manchester over a year but it is a nice touch anyway! After perusing the menu for a few minutes I opted for a good cross section of food. The waitress did recommend three to four dishes per person so I opted for five, as it was a restaurant review after all. The prices for each of the dishes range between £4 up to about £15 for specials. The food is brought out as it is ready, as it would be in any authentic Spanish tapas restaurant, so if you like your food course by course, I would bare this in mind. Personally, I love that the food is brought out when ready, and always adds to the suspense about what is arriving next.
To curb my suspense and ease me into an evening of food I thought it would be silly not to order a bottle of wine. Now if you know me, you will often hear me ranting on about how much I love wine and posting pictures of the wine I have bought. The wine menu in El Gato Negro is superb and one that should not scare those of you that are often intimidated by a huge wine list. As with most places today, you can purchase wine by the glass which ranges between £5 to £10 or you can purchase by the bottle, where the sky really is the limit. I opted for a bottle of the ‘Bodegas Navajas Reserva 2009 Rioja’. It had a stunning deep plum like colour, and had notes of red and black fruits, and hints of cinnamon. It is a wine that is not going to set the world on fire but it is a good example of a Rioja and a nice drinker.
When the first dish arrived, the Catalan chorizo with Aspall cider, my taste buds were alight with joy. I was instantly transported back to my visits to Barcelona. It was face slappingly tasty, and shortly after, my roast quail ballotine arrived which was just an absolute joy. It was one of the specials on this particular night and was highly recommended by the waitress. I’ll be honest, the only reason I ordered this was due to the braised oxtail being off the menu but after a mouthful of the ballotine all was forgotten. The flavours and delicate nature of the dish blew me away. It really was a pure joy to eat, and a dish I savored every morsel of.
Scallops are something I have always loved but they can often disappoint if not given the love and respect they deserve. The chef on the evening clearly gave the scallops a standing ovation, and wine and dined them before they arrived at my table. They were a joy to savour and the avocado purée is something you just need to experience with this dish. It works so well and creates a beautiful balance between the scallops, squid ink sauce, and the capers. Moving on to the chargrilled octopus with capers, shallots, and aioli. Very well executed and a very nice light dish to continue my tapas feast.
One of the complete surprises of the meal was the caramelised cauliflower. The dish was divine and I would recommend this to any visitor of this incredible restaurant. The fried chickpeas are a complete delight. I would never have thought to fry chickpeas but I am definitely a convert now! A true triumph of a dish, and again it is well balanced with yoghurt dressing and the pomegranate.
Moving onto dessert (most range from £7 to £10), I just had to try the spiced apple crumble. Now it was deconstructed, and I normally cannot stand deconstructed anything, and find it a rather annoying fashion with chefs at times but this was definitely not a bad experience. In fact, it was a triumph! The desert was an absolute joy to eat and the black treacle and amaretti ice cream is heavenly. I could happily eat bowls of this ice cream on its own!!! To accompany dessert some, including myself, would normally opt for a dessert wine but as I was in a Spanish restaurant I thought I would go for a ‘Alvear Pedro Ximenez de Añada 2013’ sherry. Some people would think of sherry as an old ladies drink but I find it a true delight with desserts. This was like a liquid heaven made of raisins, and a pure delight with my final course. I cannot recommend this sherry highly enough (I have been trying to find a stockist for weeks), and it complemented the spiced apple crumble perfectly. A fine end to a delightful meal!
As you may have gathered I enjoyed my evening at El Gato Negro and I strongly recommend you find time to visit this place if you love your food and wine. I have eaten in many of the tapas restaurants around Manchester (and there are quite a few), and this is by far the best. I would go as far to say that this is some of the best tapas I have eaten anywhere, and that includes Spain. Even if you just pop into the bar and get some bar snacks you most try this place! Thank you to all the staff, and especially the chef that prepared some truly incredible food for me on this fine evening.