If, like me, you’ve been telling anyone who’d listen how great El Gato Negro is, it’s all your fault. Manchester has voted with its feet and, since opening in back in February, they’ve been rammed every weekend. A free table there has been rarer than a Jose Mourinho smile. Mercifully they’ve done the sensible thing and taken a few knives and forks to the top floor so you can eat up there too now, however, a new Autumn menu gives us all another ten or so reasons for at least one more visit, so you still best be booking ahead.
The new dishes span across each part of the menu, so we ate our way through the small plates by section. First we dug in to some plump seafood. Thick, fat anchovy fillets on crostini – just nicely, slightly salty – enough to get me salivating. Then Palourde clams cooked in sherry with iberico ham, tenderly steamed with that flavour of the sea still ever present.
Next a dish as alluring to the eye as the belly, whole plaice with lemon. The fish was so delicately steamed, almost translucent – so soft, and those Morecambe Bay brown shrimps tossed over with lilliput capers; their subtle aromas and added bite completed something quite special. Things then got lighter still with the caramelised cauliflower, charred slightly but freshened with pomegranate and a lemon yoghurt dressing. Delicious, crisp fried chickpeas were deployed in there too adding their own structure to the dish – luckily they made a return in a later plate.
If we’re dividing this up in to pairs I’ll have these two as my favourite couple. First roast quail with Andalusian-style lentils, that taste of home cooking, the pulses with their earthy, hearty richness taken up a posh notch with that posh bird. A theme that ran through the meal for me, was that these dishes were similar to things I’d maybe tried before, at home or elsewhere, but just so much better. A good example came next with the chargrilled chicken thighs. Served in a shabu-shabu dressing, which is quite similar to a tahini sauce in that they both primarily utilise sesame seeds, for me it’s on another level though. Proper, lip smackingly tasty stuff. Those little fried chickpeas were back too – a welcome return indeed.
All those superlatives spent, and I’ve still got a chargrilled ribeye steak to tell you about. You know the score with this one though, a perfectly rare slab of meat, juicy mushroom and red wine sauce – out of shot there’s some fries cooked in iberico ham dripping too. If you’ve got a mate who says they don’t like tapas and they ain’t coming, show them that. Who cares what it is, it’s marvellous. Another beef n spud portion finished us off – braised oxtail with Rioja sauce and horseradish mash – well worthy of any wintry dinner table.
Tangerine cheesecake with milk chocolate crémeux had the desired effect of a pudding for me, in that it was reminiscent of stuff I used to eat when I was a kid. The candied fruit and cheesecake top was jelly tots all over for me, a nice light choice certainly too. Spiced apple crumble with black treacle and amaretti ice cream definitely looked the part, I think desserts have to be scattered these days, I’m sure everything is starting to look more like breakfast than afters though.
So then, a whole host of reasons to go back, or make your first trip if you’ve been biding your time, either way Get On It.
El Gato Negro Tapas
52 King Street