El Gato Negro Tapas, 52 King Street, Manchester, M2 4LY – Visit Now
Review by JP Daly
With the new member of the family now open in Ancoats, it is tempting to wonder if El Gato Negro will become the ignored big brother next to the exciting new baby in the fold. Further thought will, of course, suggest that the much raved about Spanish restaurant will unlikely be pushed by aside by its Portuguese sibling. If we’re going to keep stretching the analogy, the shared staff suggests that there will be more familial warmth than rivalry.
Talking of new kids on the scene, with El Gato’s dominance of the higher end Spanish fair on King St it can be easy to forget it is yet three years since the much hailed Ramsbottom restaurant became a city dweller. However, it is time for a new menu launch, and it’s hard to refuse any excuse to try another of Simon Shaw’s menus.
The tortilla is still as satisfying and as salty as ever
Much has been spoken of El Gato’s dishes in the last couple of years, and those words have not been made a lie of, the magic of their Catalan bread with tomatoes stands up, the tortilla is still as satisfying and as salty as ever and the charcuterie is of the highest quality. However, we enter tonight set on eyeing up the latest additions to the restaurant’s already startlingly high-quality food.
The first decision, and always one of the hardest, is whether to get stuck into the wine list or the house speciality cocktails. Thankfully my dining companion decides to make it easy by opting for a cocktail whilst I get a full-bodied Bodegas Navajas Reserva 2011 Rioja to kick off as I mean to go on – for the price it is a spicy and lingering red without too heavy a punch to dominate the food too early on.
Where the vegetarians are catered for, they are done so very well
Asking our waiter for the best of the new dishes, we settle in for the excitement of unknown food to come hoping that El Gato will hit its previous highs. The matrimonia – a duet of marinated and salted anchovies and peppers on a slice of toasted baguette is the pinchos you dream of when visiting northern Spain – the sweetness of the pepper helps mellow the anchovies saltiness without obscuring it, and allowing the softness of the fish to come through. Obviously, we ask for padron peppers, to make sure our salt levels are kept up and, as always, these are the perfect bar snack.
Where the vegetarians are catered for, they are done so very well – El Gato is definitely a restaurant for the meat lovers, but the roasted cauliflower will keep veggies happy – comparable to the much adored cauliflower at Liverpool’s Maray. High praise from anyone who has tried it, as my companion concurs. Moving back to the meat, I may be taking my life in my hands by admitting that pig’s cheeks have never been high on my favoured dishes – but the ones here certainly make me understand why some people are so enamoured by them – the tear apart meat and sweetbread like texture nearly fully convert me – though it is the chestnuts in this dish that really excite – for some this will be the dish of winter.
More vegetarian fare, the smoked potatoes, are described as perfect comfort food and I would not be averse to these being on hand next time I feel a hangover looming.
El Gato, is still very much the elder sibling, and won’t be getting ignored any time soon
To finish the millefeuille was light and satisfying, the hazelnut, coffee and praline flavours being carried by a pastry that doesn’t feel too heavy after a very filling meal. After the Rioja working well throughout the meal, it felt only right to try a sherry trio, now that bars around Manchester, such as Flok on Stevenson Sq, are really embracing the Jerez tipple. The highlight being the sucker dry Manzanilla ‘I Think’.
Being fed and watered in between El Gato’s walls can feel like a decadent treat, full of rich, deep, flavours presented delicately but with the food very much front and centre and it rarely fails to come good on such promises. They may have added a new member to the family but, for now, El Gato, is still very much the elder sibling, and won’t be getting ignored any time soon.