El Gato Negro set to join some old favourites on the Manchester Spanish food scene
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 October 2015 | UPDATED: 09:34 20 April 2016
Janet Reeder gives the lowdown on the Spanish restaurant boom
The summer may have gone but that doesn’t mean we have to lose the holiday vibe, at least where Spanish cuisine is concerned. It may not have escaped your notice but the culinary delights of Iberia have made their way over to the UK and the past few years have seen new highs for the quality and authenticity of Spanish food. El Bulli may now be no more but Aiden Ferra’s influence and the ‘nueva cocina’ movement has created a seismic shift in the industry with Spanish restaurants regularly making the top of the foodie charts.
Of course, all of this has rubbed off and now our county is reaping the benefits with older Spanish tapas bars now being joined by later exponents of the Iberian kitchen.
Newest of these on the block is the soon to open El Gato Negro with former Harvey Nichols head chef Simon Shaw at the helm.
While working in London, Simon visited the Basque country and Catalonia and immediately fell in love with the diversity and excitement of modern Spanish cuisine.
Determined to bring this then under-appreciated cuisine to a wider audience, in 2005, Simon returned north to open El Gato Negro in Ripponden, West Yorkshire. His restaurant’s reputation grew by the year, picking up awards and accolades galore: winning best local Spanish restaurant in the country on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, feted by the critics, ranked the number one tapas bar in the country by The Times; and finally awarded the prestigious Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand in both 2014 and 2015.
But Simon is now preparing to open in King Street, Manchester, in late autumn. He says he fell in love with Spanish cuisine when he was working at Harvey Nichols in London.
‘We used to do these things called A Taste of..and we did A Taste of Spain and that hooked me in. What I like about Spanish food is it’s innovative and they really take great care with their ingredients. And one of the cities at the forefront of this was Barcelona - what you had there was the mix of the very contemporary with other influences.
‘I remember working with a lady at Harvey Nichols. I was invited to her house for Sunday lunch and I was mesmerized by it. You never knew what was coming next and it kept on coming. And I still get the same excitement from it as I did 15 years ago.’
Simon will head the team at the restaurant which is backed by Mills Hills group. He is busy devising dishes that will work for the new venture, some of which were a fixture at the former Ripponden restuarant.
He explains: ‘Morcilla are scotch eggs with a small quail’s egg surrounded by black pudding. I tell people they are very fiddly to make and they say “we don’t care. just make sure they don’t come off the menu”.
‘Another staple is a lentil dish and chargrilled baby chicken, with paprika and a garlic and romanescu sauce.’
There will however, be many fresh additions, thanks to the new equipment that will be installed in the state-of-the-art kitchen.
‘Quite a bit of the menu will be based around cooking with charcoal as we have a Josper grill. We will also be using a robata grill which is a Japanese technique. If you visit Barcelona there’s a restaurant called Dos Pallilos where the old chef at El Bulli who has a Japanese wife has fused Spanish style and Japanese style and it’s fantastic.’
A Spanish kitchen is, he believes, perfectly suited to the Manchester way of life for many reasons.
‘It’s one of those cuisines that is accessible to everyone, whether you want to have two or three dishes and a glass of wine or come down for a couple of hours,’ he says.
One of the oldest independent Spanish restaurants in Manchester is Evuna with branches on Deansgate and in the Northern Quarter. Jane Dowler’s original concept was selling boutique wines with tapas.
‘The focus was on a mixture of retail and restaurant, which happens quite a lot in Europe,’ says Jane, who runs the restaurant with her mother Frances and husband Bosun Ajilowura.
‘The idea was that people would pop in, have a little something to eat and choose some wine to have at home. But in 2003 we ended up becoming a full blown restaurant. As soon as we opened we knew we needed more table space.’
With a chef on board, the kitchen was able to create authentic dishes to match the authentic wines bought from independent producers, which is Evuna’s USP.