The Fish From This Manchester Tapas Bar Is So Good Jesus Himself Could Have Caught It
Heaven for the senses...
I loved studying Spanish at school and college, I always thought it was such a sexy language compared to the likes of French or German. The people too - they're sexy buggers. You only have to look at the likes of Enrique Inglesias and Penelope Cruz before you're staring at your own reflection in the mirror as if it's some kind of science experiment.
What I don't understand is how they're so damn sexy when places like El Gato Negro exist...
I walked in to the so-called Black Cat last Friday night to the kind of Spanish tunes you bob your head to without knowing the words and a bustling atmosphere - it was busy without being uncomfortably rammed.
Our waiter - Alberto - was comfortingly Spanish (authentic tick number one) and brought us a fairly short tapas menu (another tick - when there's a menu as long as your arm you know you're in trouble.) That being said, it was still difficult to narrow down the choices because everything sounded excellent.
My cocktail of choice - the quince bellini - is served with a sprig of rosemary hugging the glass on arrival so that when you go to sip it your senses are inebriated by this fantastic pine-like scent. It tasted like Christmas in a glass and made me feel like I'd just been skiing in the alps and had settled down for a well-earned nightcap.
Alberto recommended that in true Spanish-style, we start out with a taster from the 'para picar' menu (literally translating to - 'to pick' or 'to snack') we chose the anchovy fillets on crostini followed by the salt cod croquettes - accompanied by piquillo pepper purée and traditional aioli.
The anchovies were hands down the tastiest I've ever had, brought to life by just a sprinkling of fresh chilli and beautifully accompanied by that crunchy underlayer of crostini. They weren't my first choice 'para picar' but they certainly will be when I return.
The cod croquettes were also lovely, a generous fish to potato ratio (not always easy to come by in the croquette sphere) and this really soft, luxurious filling that made me want to put my cosiest socks on, sit by the fire and let it all digest with a steamy mug of mulled wine.
I have to say, the patatas bravas were a bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, they were nicely cooked with a fabulously rich tomato sauce, beautifully presented in one of those little ramekins that your aunt would coo at, but I like my bravas with that rough-and-ready-round-the-edges sort of crisp, and these were lacking that golden crunch in their coating that for me, give patatas that added bit of bravas.
Going down in history as one of El Gato Negro's top picks, the 'Morcilla scotch eggs with mushroom duxelle, apple purée and aioli' were truly divine however, and to my absolute delight the tiny wee egg in the middle was still warm and runny. We're talking instagrammably oozy, melt-in-your-mouth sort of stuff. I was very impressed.
The chargrilled sweet potato with mango, chilli and yoghurt dressing was the dish I was least looking forward to (we were looking a little veg-poor and I felt obliged to sample a dish from the recently added Autumn selection) but oddly, I honestly think it was my favourite dish of the lot (the anchovies are a close contender.)
The slightly dull description (when compared to its menu peers) did not prepare me for the wonderfully smokey, living-on-the-edge glaze which complemented the sweetness of the vegetable wonderfully. Beautifully cooked, melt-in-your-mouth, fight-with-your-dining-partner-over-the-last-one-good, they put the original patatas to shame, and in my opinion should be promoted to the permanence of the main menu.
The dessert choices were tough, Alberto was once again on hand to recommend the turrón cheesecake with caramel sauce, but I was leaning towards the valrhona chocolate delice. After discovering though, that the special selection of El Gato Negro's favourite desserts consisted of a little piece of them all, the decision was made.
It's probably necessary at this stage to point out that I wasn't dining alone, by the way...
Alberto, as I should have known, was right of course - the typical turron cheesecake was by far the best of the lot, the caramel sauce would have had Nigella Lawson drooling and the cheesecake itself had this heavenly rich texture that had both my figure and taste-buds screaming at me for entirely different reasons.
The Creme Catalan was a close second for me, but if you're stuffed from the main tapas and feel like something a little lighter, their Spanish chocolate ice cream is knock-out too.
If you live in Manchester you'd be mad not to try this place at least once. It's on the pricer side, one starter-size tapas dish will cost you around a tenner or more (unless you've gone veggie) but for a special occasion it's an absolute must.