I loved studying Spanish at 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 with a friend one 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 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…
Our waiter 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 smoked almonds and the jamon croquettes – accompanied by piquillo pepper purée and traditional aioli.
The almonds were hands down the tastiest I’ve ever had, completely brought to life with the seasoning. They weren’t my first choice ‘para picar’ but they certainly will be when I return.
The croquettes were also lovely, a generous jamon to potato ratio (not always easy to come by in the croquette sphere) and this really soft, luxurious filling was absolutely perfect.
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 ‘traditional Spanish omelette and aioli’ was truly divine however, and the Basque cod pil-pil with piperrada vegetables and ajillo was an absolute triumph. We’re talking instagrammably oozy, melt-in-your-mouth sort of stuff. I was very impressed.
The chargrilled heritage carrots, aubergine purée, miso and walnut pesto 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 this section) but oddly, I honestly think it was my favourite dish of the lot (the croquettes 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. 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…
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.