When you hear that a restaurant you’ve known and loved is no more, it’s always a bit of a blow to the belly. That happened to me when I discovered The Vincent Café had gone and I wouldn’t be able to eat its gringo sushi anymore. Call me fickle, though, because I was quickly consoled when I learned that it was to be replaced by the illustrious El Gato Negro.
El Gato Negro (The Black Cat) first opened in Ripponden a while back and celebrated its success by launching a second venue on Manchester’s King Street. The second outpost received an equally impressive reception and is now actually the only eatery in the city decorated with a Michelin Bib Gourmand accolade. So, it’s safe to say I was expecting pretty epic things from the Liverpool space.
What they’ve done with the expansive Grade-II listed building overlooking the cobbles of Exchange Flags is immediately inviting. As you step through the door, you have the charcuterie counter to your left, a large island bar to your right and a spread of immaculately dressed booths and tables before you reach the open kitchen at the back. The colours are as warm as the atmosphere – it’s one of those places that quickly feels like a home from home.
The food menu is inspired by chef Simon Shaw's travels around various parts of Spain and marries contemporary and classic tapas. The menu suggests five-six plates between two, which is about right if you’re modestly peckish but potentially a little short if you’re feeling super hungry. It’s split into para picar (nibbles), meat, fish, charcuterie and vegetables, each offering carefully curated flavours from across the Continent.
Highlights for us were the deep-fried Monte Enebro cheese (£5) with orange & rosemary honey (sticky, sweet and stunning), crispy Jamón Ibérico croquetas (£7), chargrilled sweet potato with mango, chilli & yoghurt dressing (£6.50) and the pièce de résistance – an indulgent caramelised vanilla rice pudding with warm strawberries (£6.50). Each was rich in its own flavours, impressively presented and obviously cooked by expert hands. I was also pleasantly surprised by the roasted cauliflower (£7.50) with a silky ‘shabu shabu’ dressing that tasted of sesame and soy – delicious.
Honestly? It wouldn’t be fair to other restaurants I’ve eaten at if I claimed it was the best tapas I’ve ever had in my life, but it's up there. The vegetarian selection could be more substantial, so perhaps, as a herbivore for the evening, I’m not giving it all the kudos it deserves. I know the carnivore I was dining with cannot wait to go back for more and I’ll definitely be joining him to explore more of the meat and fish. To be fair, I’d make a return purely to bask in the gorgeous surroundings with a big bowl of rice pudding and a large glass of Tempranillo.
The DesignMyNight Digest
If you’re looking for great tapas or small plates in the city, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t absolutely love El Gato Negro. If you’re a vegetarian, be prepared to eat lots of cheese and carbs (and delicious they will be). If you’re vegan, you might want to look elsewhere or just head there for a drink at the beautiful, well-stocked bar.