Sunday 18 August 2013

El Gato Negro Tapas, Ripponden

El Gato Negro Tapas
1 Oldham Road

I first went to El Gato Negro a good few years ago and was extremely impressed by the food, but then for some unfathomable reason (apart from the distance) never returned.  But earlier this summer, I was making a list of restaurants to visit and revisit, and El Gato Negro came up.  It's not even that far to Ripponden, which is just a short distance from Junction 22 or 23 of the M62. Easily done for me for lunch, though too far in the evening.

Not a lot seems to go on Ripponden: I presume it's now mainly a feeder town for Halifax, Huddersfield and the Leeds-Bradford conurbation, which probably explains why El Gato Negro is only open for lunch on Saturdays (though I see they've now started opening one Sunday lunch a month).

Inside, the building's former existence as a pub isn't entirely lost, with (reupholstered, thankfully) banquettes around the walls of the clearly identifiable former rooms.  As you enter, there is a small ham and charcuterie slicing station before you go through to the main room and the bar it contains.  Tables are fairly closely packed and a little cramped, but even on the hottest summer day the old stone building stays cool and airy.

Service is good and knowledgeable.  A request for a glass of manzanilla was responded to with a quarter bottle of excellent manzanilla: a great solution to the problem of even 500ml bottles fading before they've been finished when served by the glass.
There's an interesting, short wine list pretty much exclusively Spanish, if I remember correctly. Sparkling and still water comes from a snazzy looking machine behind the bar - presumably it's filtered tapwater?
The menu is your placemat (plus some blackboard specials).  You also order via your placemat, which I have to say feels a bit of a gimmick, but it works well: you nominate one person on the table to write the number of each dish you want in a little box next to each dish on the menu; the waitress takes that placemat away, presumably enters it onto the computer; and then the menu/placemat is returned to you.

On a couple of visits, we managed to eat through the better part of the menu. Everything was good, and while not everything was an absolutely unqualified success, there was nothing I'd not order again.  Tapas restaurants are ten-a-penny these days, but none I've been to, even Paul Heathcote's late lamented Grado in Manchester, come anywhere close to El Gato Negro.

Anchovy fillets on crostini
The anchovy fillets had very clean flavours and the crostini, while light and thin, had just enough body not to crumble away when you tried to eat them.

Acorn-fed jamón Ibérico from Barcelona
For me, the accompanying celeriac rémoulade, which was quite possibly the best I've ever had, outshone the quality of the Iberico ham.

Pan Catalan
The Pan Catalan, with olive oil, garlic & fresh plum tomato showed just how good this simple dish can be when prepared by someone who understands the ingredients.

Hand-picked white crab meat, avocado purée and gazpacho
This verrine was one of the best dishes, packed with excellent white crab meat bound in a light mayonnaise, on top of a smooth avocado purée. The crab was topped with a truly excellent gazpacho: I'd have been very happy with a bowl of that gazpacho, but apparently a cold soup, even in summer, would be a step too far for many of the customers.

Beetroot salad with picos blue cheese
This was a dish off the specials menu on the blackboard, a wonderful beetroot salad with green beans, Picos blue cheese & spiced walnuts: an excellent combination of flavours and textures. A dish that just makes you smile.

Morcilla scotch eggs
Interior of the morcilla scotch eggs
Morcilla scotch eggs come topped with a little aioli and an apple gel. As these are tapas size portions, the eggs are quails' eggs, which, as you can see, are perfectly cooked.  The crumb is very light and the morcilla is good, though not the best I've tasted. (The morcilla from Levanter Foods is much more exciting.)

Grilled sweet potato topped with chorizo and baby squid
This was a bit of an odd one. A long slice of ever-so-slightly undercooked sweet potato topped with small chorizo sausages and very tender baby squid.  The flavours were pretty good, but the squid seemed to get lost a little, and somehow this felt one of the weaker dishes, not quite living up to expectations.

Spiced aubergine with lavash crisp bread and cucumber and mint dressing

The aubergine element of the same dish

Salt cod croquetas with aioli
Salt cod croquetas were very good, but perhaps lacked something of the vibrancy of other dishes, and we agreed that a litte more of the salt cod in them would have really helped.

Seared hand-dived scallops, pea purée, morcilla and crispy Pata Negra jamón
 Excellent scallops, perfectly cooked with a classic combination of ingredients. Not really much more you can say.

Tortilla is on the menu as 'tortilla of the day' and is cooked to order (or at least ours was). I think today's tortilla was leek and cheese. Without doubt, the best tortilla I've had.  So much lighter than you usually find, with the leek and cheese giving just a subtle flavour.
Tortilla of the day
Duck egg yolk with Alejandro chorizo & migas breadcrumbs
Another dish from the specials menu that proved an absolute winner: the slow-cooked egg yolk providing the rich, luxury counterpoint to the simple, rustic breadcrumbs and chorizo. A great dish: we had to restrain ourselves from ordering another!

New season rack of local lamb, alubia bean and rosemary purée, minted peas
Some excellent lamb, simply roasted with what seemed (in my ignorance of Spanish food) a rather English addition of minted fresh peas, and then back to Spain with the bean purée subtly scented with rosemary.

Onglet steak with patatas pobres
 Apologies for the poor quality of this stupendous onglet steak: I really can't remember having had one more tender.

Torta del Santiago

An excellent torta del Santiago came warm from the oven, and was served with salted caramel ice cream.

El Gato Negro Tapas on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Now that is Tapas. Shame we've nothing like that over in Belfast