I’d been wanting to visit El Gato Negro ever since it moved to King Street last year, but had never quite got round to it – for a variety of reasons.
As anyone who lives in or has visited Manchester knows, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants here. It seems like there’s a new place opening every week and as much as I’d like to visit them all, I’m only one man.
The location had also been a factor in keeping me away. I only ever visit King Street during Christmas when the German markets come to town – it’s not somewhere I tend to spend my evenings and weekends.
Anyway, on Valentine’s Day, we finally went to check the place out. Because what’s more romantic than spending an evening stuffing your face with tapas? Not much.
And let me tell you, it was well worth the wait.
Despite its fairly understated exterior, there’s a lot going on once you walk through the doors, with a walk-in charcuterie bar on the ground floor, restaurant in the middle and rooftop cocktail bar to top things off. We were seated in the ground floor bar when we arrived, but were quickly whisked upstairs for the main event.
The restaurant achieves the perfect level of feeling a bit fancy without coming off as pretentious. Exposed brickwork (as seems to be standard these days) lines one side of the room while an open kitchen lines the other. Meaning you can watch the chefs doing their thing while you eat – dinner and a show.
After we’d got settled, Kilian, our hospitable host, took us through the specials and informed us that they’d usually recommend 2 or 3 dishes per person. So naturally we ordered 7, because I’ll be damned if someone tells us how much to eat.
Food is brought out as and when it’s ready, in no particular order, so we were excited to see what would come out first.
Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before Kilian skipped back over to our table with a plate of padrón peppers. I’d never had these until I first visited Madrid a couple of years ago, but they’ve since become one of my favourite tapas dishes. These ones certainly hit the spot, with perfectly blistered skin and a generous sprinkling of Halen Môn sea salt.
These were swiftly followed by the salt cod croquetas – fluffy little things that came topped with a piquillo pepper purée and garlic aioli. These tasty little morsels were quickly dealt with while we waited for our next dish.
The next dish was the one I was most looking forward to, the scotch eggs. Everyone who knows me knows I love a good scotch egg, so I was excited to see them on the menu. But these aren’t just any scotch eggs, oh no – *Marks & Spencer voice* – these are El Gato Negro scotch eggs. Tiny little eggs wrapped in morcilla and mushroom duxelle, topped with apple purée and more garlic aioli. After a couple of these, you’ll never look at a scotch egg the same way again.
Next was the classic Spanish double whammy, chorizo and patatas bravas. Because if you’re going to go out for tapas and not get chorizo and patatas bravas, then why even bother? Despite the simplicity of these two dishes, they’re often done quite poorly – this wasn’t one of those occasions. The two dishes worked perfectly together – truly a match made in culinary heaven.
Bellies stating to fill, we were nearing the end of our selection, with just a couple of dishes left to come. We finished things off with the lamb skewers and the octopus. The octopus was a first for me, having never been a huge eater of seafood, and I was pleasantly surprised. Cooked on the grill, the big, meaty chunks of octopus came with capers, shallots and yet more aioli (I’m sure we both probably stank of garlic by the end of the evening).
But the real star of the show was the chargrilled lamb skewers, which came with a spiced chickpea purée and harissa. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was some of the best lamb I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant. It’s been over a week and I’m still thinking about them. I could happily eat plate after plate of them, until I’m more lamb than man.
The total bill came to just over £70, which for 2 pints, a cocktail and 7 plates of delicious food is pretty good value.
So, if you’re a fan of tapas, or even if you’re not and just fancy trying something new, I’d highly recommend venturing out to King Street and giving El Gato Negro a try. Because if eating 7 plates of food in one sitting is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.