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El Gato Negro

Jonathan Schofield heads for the hills to possibly the best tapas restaurant outside Spain but wants more

Written by . Published on March 13th 2008.


El Gato Negro

El Gato Negro is located in Ripponden, just off the M62 at junction 22. It was previously the Junction pub.

I recall a bangers and mash lunch there before I had tax bills or children. It was an awful uncared for pub, but hey those were carefree days and I didn’t have to write about the experience.

It was a fine dish, a dandy dish with a clear combination of flavours and no car crashes. The mingling of scallop, risotto and artichokes was proper good. But it did raise questions. Because this was pushing tapas as far as they can go.

But time was running out for those types of lazy semi-rural pubs: conversion either into house or restaurant was inevitable. Clearly the latter occurred which was why I was visiting – Confidential has yet to go calling on private individuals and demanding dinner, although that may happen.

Along came business partners Simon Shaw and Chris Williams, the one for the kitchen and the other for front of house, and the black cat restaurant appeared ( that’s what the name means in Spanish by the way, it’s nothing to do with Black Forest Gateaux as one of the less well-read punters in the place suggested).

It’s got real fires, a smooth mild interior, a smart bar and views down the precipitous slope to the stream out the back. The only jarring notes are delivered by substandard artworks, that sort-of-not-got-my-heart-into-it-just making-a-gesture-don’t-want-to-offend type of stuff beloved of pretty commuter places whether in West Yorkshire or Surrey.

Each table has a big paper mat and you order from there, ticking boxes which tickle your fancy and then passing that to the waiting staff. These were three enthusiastic lads and lasses who between them had a collective age just scraping that necessary for voting. It was a good job that the steadying hand of Chris Williams was present.

The food is tapas and you’re advised to order five or six dishes for two people. Now there’re tapas and tapas and El Gato's are special tapas, as would never appear on the bar in a Madrid barrio. They are posh versions for Brits with disposable incomes. Good job then that they are mostly wonderful.

The best for me was the baby roast chicken with lemon, garlic and paprika (£6), which you should rush to El Gato to eat. The delicate little fowl were cooked to perfection, with the paprika a quiet presence. After a squeeze of lemon these were raspingly zesty and a joy to the world. The worst dish was the slow roast onion with artichoke risotto and Manchego (the classic Spanish sheep cheese) for £6.50 which was a gooey blur.

There was no between, betwixt the beautiful and the bad after that as everything else was more or less up there with the chicken. The Manchego with bitter sweet green figs (£5.50) was another cracker which we couldn’t quite finish so El Gato charmingly offered us a tub in which to carry the remainder off.

The selection of Spanish meats (£8.50) was another winner worth the journey, with the Serrano ham (dry-cured) exquisitely delicate, full-on flavoured and clearly a quality cut. The lomo (cured pork tenderloin) was a little powerhouse too. The Syrian lentils (£2.85) came almost like a hot broth with cumin and coriander.

The show-off dish in terms of presentation and taste combination was the pan-fried scallops, jamon risotto with paprika foam, roast salmon, sweet potato puree and char-grilled artichokes (£8.50). This looked like a creation from a one or two starred Michelin restaurant, with dribbles, flourishes and foam (or ‘fucking foam’ as my colleague Gordo usually refers to it). It was a fine dish, a dandy dish with a clear combination of flavours and no car crashes. The mingling of scallop, risotto and artichokes was proper good.

But it did raise questions. Because this was pushing tapas as far as they can go. My partner said, “you get tired of tapas, and want something bigger don’t you? Seems a cop out with cooking this standard.” Exactly - especially when some of these are tapas only because the management chooses to label them thus.

El Gato Negro is a couple or so years old now and it’s gained plaudits all over the place, it’s an award-winner and it’s clearly beloved of the locals too. But here’s a thing chef, next time I come can you have five or six mains on the menu… I know this isn’t the business model but I want to see how you get on with those.

Often on menus the starters are the best dish, largely because there isn't as much for the chef to worry about when it comes to presentation and balancing flavours. Chef Simon Shaw claims that tapas are ideal because they offer variety and allow experimentation. This is a nice conceit, variety certainly, but experimentation is also available when preparing mains, the difference is you don’t get a second chance with the charming next tapa if the kitchen buggers up.

Maybe I'm being churlish. Despite these thoughts this was still a tremendous evening out, the food was excellent, the atmosphere good and the location very pretty. If you love food and love being surprised by it, then El Gato should be inked into the diary asap.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8.5/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: El Gato Negro Tapas
Oldham Road
Ripponden
Sowerby Bridge
HX6 4DN
01422 823070
Weds-Friday 6pm-9.30pm, Saturday noon-2pm, 6pm-10pm, Sunday 12.30pm-6.30pm

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo’s gets carried away

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34 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousMarch 13th 2008.

sugarvine.com only publish the good reviews, believe me I tried submitting my thoughts on the pretentious Room and they wouldn't upload it as it wasn't positive. No point in a review site then really.

Miss sMarch 13th 2008.

Well I have not tried La Torre since it moved from Chorlton but it was very hit and miss whilst there and I believe the kitchens were somewhat foul when it closed its doors for good.As for El Grato Negro..I will def try there sometime.

camcoMarch 13th 2008.

may i sugest you try Valencia in sale, its an outstanding traditional resturant not like the chains you get nowadays. Then staff are very helpful and will cater to your evry needs. Incidentley La Torre in chorlton when it first opened was fantastic howevr certain circumstances led to the owner getting "Preoccupied" and thus it went down hill

Rich TMarch 13th 2008.

Went to El Gato last Sunday after reading the reviews on MC, and I have a few thoughts1. Quality of the tapas was excellent and i would rather have a limited choice with excellent quality than the other way round2. The service was typically Spanish! It states on the menu that food will be served as and when prepared, kinda makes sense3. The staff - never met Chris before but he was interesting and articulate and very passionate about his food - made a nice change!4. The deserts - before we got there my partner said she wouldn't be bothered about desert as it was not what the Spanish are known for and I agreed. However, i soon changed my mind when I saw that the desert menu had some classics on there (Creme Brulee, Ice cream, etc) I went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Timothy Taylor Ice Cream - WOW!The spomge was light and moist with a perfect amount of a toffee sauce, which had delicious notes of slightly burnt caramel and rum, which worked really well with the maltiness of the beer ice cream, probably one of the best classic english deserts i have ever had.If you want to sit down to a 3-course Al a Carte menu, try your local gastropub, if you want a relaxing grazing menu with decent wine and nice company, then there are few better

The Real Rod HullMarch 13th 2008.

Evuna is in no way comparable to La Tascas. The food in Evuna is amazing, I've never had a bad meal there. The prawns were bnig, juicy and cooked to perfection. Although we have been on the table between the bar and the window, I've never had a problem with the service. Where as La Tascas is the McDonalds of tapas... but at least the food in McDonalds tastes of something!!!!

GMarch 13th 2008.

Let's be sensible. For authentic tapas, why not try Spain. It's about £60 return and the food is much better and cheaper than anywhere in Manchester. Let me sugggest El Bulli in Roses!

ericMarch 13th 2008.

Taken aback - We were offered a poor service, a rahter limited menu, an uneccessary wait in a half empty restuarant, and food that was poorly cooked, and not very authentic.How on earth is that head and shoulders above anything?

Pedro1874March 13th 2008.

We have visited EGN twice and thoroughly enjoyed the food. Once when Simon was still Chef and once a couple of weeks ago after he had left. Nothing had changed. Food still great quality and saw nothing like Eric described above. Another Spanish Restaurant not mentioned above that I love is La Casona in Heaton Moor, Stockport - real quality and authenticity http://www.lacasona.org.uk/

Jane - EvunaMarch 13th 2008.

Oh god - Ive opened the flood gates here havn't I! As one of the owners Im really sorry that both Miss M and Flossie have had bad experiences at Evuna. Maybe the awefull food and service would put people off but surely the chance of being able to leave without paying the bill should have people flocking in droves :-)

AnonymousMarch 13th 2008.

Try La Torre on Flixton Road in Urmston for really good quality Tapas. Great reviews on SugarVine.com too!

toeMarch 13th 2008.

For me you can't beat Lonrenzo's on Beech Road - a little corner of Spain in rainy Manchester...

EricMarch 13th 2008.

Absulutely DIRE. The best way to wast £50+ and whole afternoon.Aside the owner being rather irritating, the service is stretched out without need. "A drink at the bar while we prepare your table", even though the place is half empty, and the table we ended up at was less than 4 feeet away from us, and nothing on the table changed, whilst we were propping up the bar.We ordered, the house salad, which was a pitiful excuse for an entry on a menu. It was served in a cup, I kid you not, and was drowned in mayo, not exactly traditional spanish.Next was the potato bratas, which was nothing like potato bratas. It was exactly like diced potato drowned in olive oil and microwaved before lightly frying in the mereist hint of a spice. Limp, soggy and donwright awful. I have seen more ofhte queens knickers than these have seen of an oven.Roast Parsnips, were exaclty as above, limp soggy and no where near roasted.The baby chicken was I am told reasonable, though as it was not advertised as being leg, I unfortunately could not eat it.The Chorizo, was undoubtedly the worst Chorizo I have ever encountered. The texture was a lot nearer to that of a hot dog sausage, as opposed to traditional chorizo, and though it had some paprika flavour, the sausage itself was decidedly rank.The bruchette / bread milano was ok, as was the bar snacks of roast corn and peppers. The lentils were good, though as with the few things above that were ok, they are available at much better standard at any of the tapas bars in Manchester that we go to.I am truely dissapointed in this place, and as its the first time I have tried anywhere reccomended by MC, it will be the last.The owner did alude to the fact that he has some bad reports on the internet, and was now recieving more business from this review. Personally I think the place is close to ruin, nad he "needed" this review a lot. Not though as much as he needs to replace the Kitchen staff, who dont look old enough to there own taste buds let alone vote.2/10 for me, and the 2 comes in for the bar snacks.

Taken AbackMarch 13th 2008.

Eric, have you got an axe to grind? Gato is head and shoulders above anything here in Manchester. I think you are talking out of your bum.

ericMarch 13th 2008.

Nigh on any food, let alone tapas should be drowned in Mayo. This is just not for debate.Each to ther own, but I maintain that it is not very authentic, and not good food or service.Setting isnice though.Debbie, find another person to try to analyse, you could dont know me from Adam, and clearly are not a good judge. PS - this is a place for review, and that is what I have done if you disagree fine, but write about the food eh! I note you give no reader any insight into the food, did you realy go?

ericMarch 13th 2008.

I have no axe to grind, aside a wasted afternoon and a little cash.I dissagree profusely, with your view of this place. Aside a nice setting, its poor all round. If you consider drowning your food in mayo to be cooking on another level, then never the twain shall meet.Can you direct me to any of the reviews you speak of?PS - writing online to people u dont know, to "get out more" is usually a weak line of defense in the absence of any substantive comment. Do you have the details of the reviews?

Jane - EvunaMarch 13th 2008.

Hey Jonathan - what about Evuna - I'd welcome you to come along and compare :-)

AlistairMarch 13th 2008.

No-one's mentioned it and I am biased because I go there a lot but there's a little place called Casa La Tapas down Retiro Street in Oldham which is belting. I've been to Evuna, Rafa's, Casa Tapas in E Didsbury, La Vina AND La Tasca (in decending order of decency) and CLT is absolutely the business. Those prepared to trail into Yorkshire should consider stopping here instead.

paul cooksonMarch 13th 2008.

I have eaten at "el gato" several times and must say its bloody great best tapas around the area and the owner actually gives a **** comes round chatting whilst your having your meal brilliant as for gettin there might be a little tough on public transport but still try GO GO "EL GATO!"

SAWMarch 13th 2008.

You cant beat casa tapas in didsbury - the food really is fantastic - as is the atmosphere. How La Tasca, with its processed food, stays open with this around the corner i will never know.

AnonymousMarch 13th 2008.

Miss S - sorry I should have been clearer. The La Torre in Cholton is in no way linked to La Torre in Urmston. The one in Urmston is damn good!!!

PatMarch 13th 2008.

And Eric, it's nice to get out of the city and up into the hills for a bit as well isn't it?

chris g.March 13th 2008.

been going to el gato negro since it opened, tried to keep it a secret from you, enough locals to fill it. City centre tapas bar owners should visit it so see how its done.(this doesn't include Raf at el rinco) Chris makes everyone feel relaxed and he is such a personality on his own. The food is fantastic.

AnonymousMarch 13th 2008.

err...was this review for "el gato" or "evuna" or even "rafa's" and "dimitris"? You lot are barking.Back to "el gato" can anyone tell me and those that like a drink with their meal therefore not being able to drive if there is any form of public transport near to "el gato" sure this would be of more use to the readers then rambling on about other non reviewed restaurants.Now that's off my chest i'm going to have a bacon buttie, sit n my fat ass and pretend to do some work, bit like the rest of you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

shaMarch 13th 2008.

Sugarvine looks bad and is only about the good stuff in restaurants it's deeply unprovocative and creepy. People really should try and avoid reading it unless they just want address or opening times details.

PatMarch 13th 2008.

Eric, calm down. And get out more. As the writer says this is pushing tapas as far as it can go. El Gato does some great stuff and has been reviewed really well by critics up to a national level. I've been six or seven times and loved it to bits. Are joking when you compare it to any of your choices, this is cooking on a different level than all of them - although I have a soft spot for El Rincon. Try it again perhaps.

SMMarch 13th 2008.

I've eaten at Evuna a number of times and it's one of my favourite restaurants in Manchester. Great food and atmosphere, lovely wines.

FlossieMarch 13th 2008.

Just couldn't help making a comment about my last trip to Evuna. Had tried to get in at Dimitris (I know they are a mix of greek and spanish but at least they know what they are doing), and they were full at 7pm! Me and my dining companion reluctantly went to Evuna, as it was the only tapas nearby that wasn't full, were plonked right next to the ajar door with a force 5 icy gale coming through - we waited over ten minutes before anyone came near the table to ask for our drinks order! When the food came, about two minutes after ordering (?!), it was very, very mediocre, greasy greasy prawns pil pil - yes they are done in olive oil but these were horrible!) and they brought all the semi-hot food out at once, subsequently it was cold before we could eat it. No-one asked if everything was ok at any stage. I would never go back! This gives Tapas a bad name! Rubbish!

zapatistaMarch 13th 2008.

Eric, do you mean patatas bravas? In Spain these are almost always served with mayonaise.

Debbie PinfoldMarch 13th 2008.

El Gato - there are not superlatives enough! Another wonderful evening, efficient, charming service and food to die for. Eric - bless! you sound like a half-empty kind of a guy in which case nothing is ever going to be good for you, apart from the fleeting pleasure of firing off a defamatory posting, as above. Most people prefer to make up their own minds - this evening it was packed so close to ruin it is not. Close to perfection? In my humble opinion, damn right!

johnthebriefMarch 13th 2008.

Well Jane-Evuna.... I went to Evuna twice when it was relatively new, the second visit being in the manner of a second chance. My very clear view after those visits were that food, service and value are all better at both El Rincon and Dimitris, and I would save my custom for them. What's different now to make me give it another go?

Miss MMarch 13th 2008.

EVUNA! Possibly the worst service I have ever experienced in my life at that place. Defo won't go back. We could have left without paying the bill and they would not have noticed!

EricMarch 13th 2008.

PS - if you like the food at Dimitris, El Rincon, Casa, and Les Ramblas, then stay there, there is no value in travelling to Rippondon for this.As a side note to La Tasca, I will say that the food and service can be dreadfull, this is noted at peak times and anytime in the Manchester centre venue. Didsbury, at peak times is ok.Oh and I forgot to mention the thing that made me laugh the most, mayo on the potato bratas, and lots of it. Jesus wept!

FlossieMarch 13th 2008.

As one of the owners, I am surprised at your lack of pride in the place and inadequate training of staff, never mind the "La Tasca" comparable food!

ChrisMarch 13th 2008.

Maybe your 'awefull' spelling could be better as well. I joke. Evuna's alright

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