Tapas Crazy

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Navarrico chickpeas with butternut squash, chilli, garlic, caramelised cauliflower florets

As foodies worldwide prepare to celebrate World Tapas Day this Thursday, June 16th, Simon Shaw, Chef Patron and Founder of El Gato Negro, shares his views on why tapas is topping Manchester’s restaurant agenda.

One of the city’s most anticipated restaurant launches when it opened its doors to 52 King St in February of this year, El Gato Negro has seen unprecedented demand with a nine week waiting list still in operation for peak weekend bookings. Key to its success is, Shaw believes, the dining experience itself with sharing at the heart of the acclaimed menu. Commenting on the successful start he said:

“We’ve opened with a bang for sure. People can’t believe we’ve only been open three months because of where we are in the journey in terms of the levels of service that we are giving. We are starting to see regular customers, which is amazing.”

Originally from Yorkshire, Shaw worked his way through some of the country’s finest establishments before becoming the first Head Chef at Harvey Nichols’ restaurant in Leeds and then on to their flagship Knightsbridge store as Executive Head Chef. It was whilst working there that his love affair for Spanish cuisine was borne. He said of this journey:

“When I started cooking there was only ever French cuisine. The rise of prominent chefs in Spain, such as el Bulli, interested me from a professional point of view. Everything starts in the Capital and that filters down to the provinces.”

Sardines with lemon, garlic and parsley butter
Sardines with lemon, garlic and parsley butter

In 2005, he returned north to open El Gato Negro in the Pennine village of Ripponden. After ten successful years and a host of awards and accolades, he made the move to Manchester. He said of the growing popularity of Spanish cuisine: “One of the reasons tapas has become so popular is because it’s great sharing food. Occasionally you do still get people who are territorial about the dishes they’ve ordered, but 99% of people who come here get it and love the idea of sharing. It connects people and that’s the difference.

“It’s a trickle of dishes through a period of time whether you’ve got an hour or two hours –it fits with your schedule. That’s another thing I love about it – it doesn’t become the main focus of why you’re out. You are out socially eating and the food is part of that whole experience. I’m amazed by the amount of dishes people are ordering. It’s a real pat on the back when we see a couple ordering twelve dishes – they are that interested in sampling as many as possible. Although it does also work the other way, if your budget is stretched. Diners can order as much or as little as they like.”

El Gato Negro is renowned for seasonally-inspired dishes. The menu explores modern and traditional Spanish flavours and techniques alongside some of the country’s best wines and a new cocktail bar offering in The Black Cat; located at the top of the building.