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El Gato Negro

Jonathan Schofield heads for the hills to possibly the best tapas restaurant outside Spain but wants more

Written by . Published on March 13th 2008.

El Gato Negro

El Gato Negro is located in Ripponden, a skip down from the motorway at junction 22. It was previously the Junction pub.

I recall a bangers and mash lunch there before I had a tax bills or children. It was an awful uncared for pub, but hey those were the carefree days and I didn’t have to write about the experience, or get back on a deadline.

It was a fine dish, a dandy dish with a clearly combination of flavours, no car crashes and the mingling of scallop, risotto and artichokes proper good. But it did raise questions. Because this was pushing tapas as far as it can go.

But time was running out for those types of lazy semi-rural pubs: conversion either into house or restaurant was inevitable. Clearly the latter occurred which was why I was visiting – Confidential has yet to go calling on private individuals and demanding dinner, although that may happen.

Along came business partners Simon Shaw and Chris Williams, the one for the kitchen and the other for front of house, and the black cat restaurant appeared ( that’s what the name means in Spanish by the way, it’s nothing to do with Black Forest Gateaux as one of the less well-read punters in the place guessed).

It’s got real fires, a smooth mild interior, a smart bar and views down the precipitous slope to the stream out the back. The only jarring notes are delivered by substandard artworks, that sort-of-not-got-my-heart-into-it-just-making-a-gesture-don’t-want-to-offend type of stuff beloved of pretty commuter places whether in West Yorkshire or Surrey.

Each table has a big paper mat and you order from there, ticking boxes which tickle your fancy and then passing that to the waiting staff. These were three enthusiastic lads and lasses who between them had a collective age just scraping that necessary for voting. It was a good job that there was the steadying hand of Chris Williams round the place.

The food is tapas and you’re advised to order five or six dishes for two people, eight would be nearer the mark if you’re hungry. Now there’re tapas and tapas and these are special tapas, as would never appear on the bar top in a Madrid barrio. They are posh tapas for Brits with disposable incomes. Good job then that they are mostly wonderful. The best for me was the baby roast chicken with lemon, garlic and paprika (£6), which you should rush to El Gato to eat. The delicate little fowl were cooked to perfection, with the paprika a quiet presence. After a squeeze of lemon these were raspingly zesty and a joy to the world. The worst dish was the slow roast onion with artichoke risotto and Manchego (the classic Spanish sheep cheese) for (£6.50) which was a gooey blur.

There was no between, betwixt the beautiful and the bad after that as everything else was more or less up there with the chicken. The Manchego with bitter sweet green figs (£5.50) was another cracker which we couldn’t quite finish so El Gato charmingly offered us a Tupperware tub in which to carry the remainder off – it lasted until Junction 22 by the way as it was so tasty. That Shaw man really knows how to prepare a fig too.

The selection of Spanish meats (£8.50) was another winner worth the journey, with the Serrano ham (dry-cured) exquisitely delicate, full-on flavoured and clearly a quality cut. The lomo (cured pork tenderloin) was a little powerhouse too. The Syrian lentils (£2.85) came almost like a hot broth with cumin and coriander.

The show-off dish in terms of presentation and taste combinations was the pan-fried scallops, jamon risotto with paprika foam, roast salmon, sweet potato puree and char-grilled artichokes (£8.50). This looked like a creation from a one or two starred Michelin restaurant, with dribbles, flourishes and foam (or ‘fucking foam’ as my colleague Gordo usually refers to it). It was a fine dish, a dandy dish with a clearly combination of flavours, no car crashes and the mingling of scallop, risotto and artichokes proper good.

But it did raise questions. Because this was pushing tapas as far as it can go. My partner said, “you get tired of tapas, and want something bigger don’t you? Seems a cop out with cooking this standard.” Exactly - especially when some of these are tapas only because the management choose to label them as such.

El Gato Negro is a couple or so years old now and it’s gained plaudits all over the place, it’s an award-winner and it’s clearly beloved of the locals too. But here’s a thing chef, next time I come can you have five or six mains on the menu… I know this isn’t the business model but I want to see how you get on with those.

Often on menus the starters are the best dish, small enough to be perfect, not as much for the chef to worry about when it comes to presentation and massing flavours. Simon Shaw claims that tapas are ideal because they offer variety and allow experimentation. This is a nice conceit, variety certainly, but experimentation is also available when preparing mains, difference is you don’t get a second chance with the charming next tapa emerging if the kitchen should bugger up.

Still this was a tremendous evening out, this is a wonderful place in a very pretty locality, that’s very accessible from the main population centres. Having a horizon dominated by hills rather than other buildings is especially pleasant for city dwellers. If you love food and love being surprised by it, then El Gato should be inked into the diary asap.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 8.5/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: El Gato Negro Tapas
Oldham Road
Sowerby Bridge
01422 823070
Weds-Friday 6pm-9.30pm, Saturday noon-2pm, 6pm-10pm, Sunday 12.30pm-6.30pm

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KevinMarch 13th 2008.

I disagree. Simon should keep to the tapas they add variety and he does them so well.

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