I generally find it pretty difficult to control myself in El Gato Negro. Having stumbled of out the place a little overindulged enough times to know better, I'm pretty sure it's physically impossible to leave any food on your plate in there.
Last week Michelin awarded the tapas restaurant a Bib Gourmand, which sounds like something I should wear on my next visit, but is actually not far from a star. And as luck would have it, after a menu refresh to add a number of alluring new items that will straddle the current season, it was time for a return visit- and another chance to test my gluttonous tendencies.
Our first dish arrived arranged like a colourful little Mexican tricolore. Layers of creamy avocado puree, light white crab meat and punchy fresh garlicky gazpacho deserve to be dislodged and devoured by thin crisp breads. I want to say there was something a bit prawn cocktail about it all but without the 70s dinner party, a similar mingling of flavours to the vintage dish although this is a cut above.
Another classic combination came next with a salad of beetroot chunks and Picos blue cheese from Asturia. Crisp sweet spicy walnuts pieces and green beans scattered between, completed added texture and and fibre but this dish is all about that perfect balance of sweet earthiness of the beet against this pungent, creamy blue.
Showcasing another Spanish cheese, the Coca Mallorquina – a Mallorcan flatbread topped with torched Monte Enebro goats cheese – was tart and sharp with it’s reduced red onion and pepper base but brought together with that tangy, strong cheese.
The Spanish really know their way round a chickpea, and that’s probably because they cultivate some of the world’s best. The plump Navarrico variety that made up our final vegetarian dish are proof of the meaty flavour the little legumes can provide, even when not accompanied by chorizo or morcilla as if often the case. In place of those sausages were golden little florets of caramelised cauliflower which completed a hearty, beautifully autumnal brew.
On to the seafood section of what’s new with first, fat Cornish mussels in a hot and herby, tomato fritarda sauce, ripe for scooping up with those shells.
Tender fried monkfish fillets laid on a fresh sauce of shallots and mini capers and LED grown tomato combined well, and were topped off with a wee scoop of iron rich Bury black pudding for good measure.
With lighter more summery options out of the way we tucked in to the beef. Hanger steak is a really underated cut of meat, the heavily marbled fillet runs across the belly and delivers loads of charred flavour when fried as well as those melt-in-mouth bites you expect from slow cooked beef. That combination sums up the onglet steak with patatas a lo pobre, which translates as poor people’s potatoes, this dish is where steak meets beef, spuds and gravy- and offers the best of both worlds.
Speaking of low and slow, the beautiful braised ox cheek really finished us off. This is a proper plate of food, the sort your gran would be proud of, but with some finesse too. The support act of velvety smooth but slightly spiced horseradish mash along with bags of umami from the slippery scattering of button mushrooms, pancetta and baby onions complete a dish you might not expect from El Gato Negro.
Tangerines are such a Christmassy flavour for me, digging that lonely piece of fruit out of your stocking and then ignoring it while you pile in to all the chocolate and booze is a proper household tradition. The tangerine cheesecake topped with candied fruit and a side of milk chocolate crémeux is surely the perfect dessert for party season.
If that was a bit heavenly for you the Valrhona chocolate tart is more death by chocolate, coffee meringues and spiced coffee syrup might point you towards enjoying an espresso with your slice but I’d go for the Pedro Ximenez instead.
El Gato Negro Tapas
52 King St, Manchester M2 4LY
0161 694 8585