[Manchester, city centre] El Gato Negro

We went to the original Gato Nego, in Ripponden, some goodly while back. It was a nice evening but a bit too much of a schlep for a casual evening of tapas. So, it was with some enthusiasm, that we heard in 2014 that Simon Shaw was closing and moving the Black Cat to Manchester’s city centre. It opened six weeks ago on King Street bringing some buzz back to what was the city’s premier shopping street back in the day. There’s a good use of what is a narrow space, with bars on the ground and second floor (both serving some food items) with the main restaurant on the first floor. The whole menu is in tapas sized portions, with a recommendation that you’ll probably want to order two or three each. So, that’s six then for the two of us, plus some olives. It’s one of those set-ups when dishes come as they are prepared, not as how you might want to eat them (OK, so we are prejudiced against this style but, when in Rome….). Have to say, we couldn’t fault the service from the front of house staff (about which more later)

The olives were first up. And they were pretty good – a mix of different types in their own marinade that was quite lemony, too lemony for one of us but fine for the other. Then there was a good “pan con tomate”. Nice toast, topped with an oily, garlicky, tomatoey topping. Just about perfect.

Pinchos murunos had been briefly cooked on the Josper, leaving the pork still tender and juicy. There’s a little mojo sauce for dunking. Heritage carrots had also been given a seeing-to on the grill, adding a layer of smoky sweetness to already sweet carrots. It’s counter-balanced by a dab of aubergine puree and a walnut pesto dressing. And there’s wonderful meatballs – light, flavoursome with a lovely tomato sauce. And patatas bravas, which were the only food disappointment of the evening . They were a bit overcooked, so they fell apart. That is, apart from the ones that needed a bit more cooking. And the sauce was hardly “brava”.

Which brings me to the final dish. Squid rings and tentacles. Perfectly cooked and sitting on black rice, presumably coloured with squid ink. They were lovely. What was not lovely was the delay in them arriving. Up till then, everything had arrived at a reasonable pace but now, we’d started finger tapping and were just about to buttonhole someone, when the manager came over to apologise. She explained that the kitchen had become overwhelmed with the number of orders but our dish was just on the way. She offered a comp’d drink but we declined, with thanks, as we didn’t need more to drink. Several more minutes passed but eventually the squid arrived, with the manager now saying the dish was comp’d. Later, when we got the bill, she also gave us the email of the general manager, asking us to contact him telling him what had gone wrong. She expected that they would be able to “do something” for us on our next visit. Now, I have to say, that is front of house being completely clued up to what was going on and dealing with it as effectively as possible.

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How did it compare to the original…?

My strategy with small plate menus that deliver dishes when they are ready is to order dishes in small batches in the order I want to eat them. That means I can pace and structure the meal and means I don’t over order.

That said its a strategy that often upsets the servers - I assume its because the restaurants want to get the food out quickly and turn the table.

Wonderful to hear about the FOH response to a slow dish - reinforces the comments on another thread about negative criticism i.e. valid if all the info is given.

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Food quality was well up there with the original. No complaints, apart from the patatas bravas.

You may possibly recall the original being recommended on egullet by a regular contributor who lived in/near Ripponden.

It was actually the other thread that prompted me to tell the full story about service. You really could not have wished better. By the by, judging by accents, the restaurant seems to have a number of Spanish staff, both our server and the manager were clearly from that part of the world.

I do remember that thread - always had a suspicion he was a friend of the house - although one with damm good taste.

Marina O’L reviews the Black Cat in today’s Guardian.

My take is that she liked the building more than the food. Although she did quite like the food.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold