EL GATO NEGRO AND THE NORTH
In a faded yellow green
Made alive a worldly wonder
Often told but never seen
A brief but very pleasant visit to the North last weekend to visit my friends Bapi and Rosie and their son in the town of Sowerby Bridge. The town lies to the West of Leeds on the way to Manchester. It’s all dark satanic mills in this part of the country, already or soon to be, converted into flats, restaurants etc. but by the time you’ve left Halifax you start seeing more of the rugged countryside of the Calder Valley. And very attractive it is too.
I had the luxury of being picked up from the station and whisked to El Gato Negro in Ripponden. A tapas restaurant in a small village in West Yorkshire ? Well why not especially if it’s as good as this one – a great place for relaxing, eating and drinking.
Service from Chris Williams and his FOH team was relaxed but very professional – the timing of everything was spot on. What I enjoyed most about the food was the freshness of the ingredients and the sympathetic and light hand in their preparation by Chef Simon Shaw. As a result everything is very clean tasting – none of the combinations jar. There’s a real generosity of spirit and love of food here.
I had to start with Jamon, it’s the First Law of Dos Hermanos. Silky slices of Jamon Iberico, the most expensive item on the men, were correctly cut wafer thin. They were also served a quantity that makes the amount you receive in London look very silly indeed. Similarly, the Pimientos de Padron, blistered and with a generous sprinkling of rock salt, were not crazily overpriced.
And there was more. Little croquettas of mushroom and spinach were greaseless with creamy insides. Nicely seared chunks of Foie Gras were cleverly paired with little French Toasts and some caramelised slivers of Mango to contrast in taste and texture with the richness of the liver. Accurately cooked Monkfish came with sweet-tasting Clams and some Asturian Beans creating a mini-fabada..
I nicked some of the bairn’s tortilla (that’s right I took a child’s food to satisfy my own greediness – shameful I know) which had a little spice mixture added to give a taste of North Africa that reminded me of Moro when they were good (that’ll be about ten years ago then). Rabo de Toro was as good as I had in Cordoba a few months ago. The most ‘cheffy’ of the dishes but no less enjoyable were Scallops which sat on a little risotto and which were topped with a paprika foam.
The chef is obviously looking to develop the menu and is not afraid of trying different combinations. We were comped a new dish to try: Onglet with Patatas a lo Pobre. So we had what is essentially a popular French cut of Beef, grilled, rested then sliced and strewn with a little mess of potatoes and peppers. Onglet has a really deep beefy flavour and the combination worked very well.
At the end of the meal I was full but not bloated so I was a little disappointed that I didn’t order the Ice Cream made from Tim Taylors. Maybe next time.
The next few hours were an enjoyable blur as we had a little break then tried out a couple of pubs in the area. There was more food – of course there was – but this time cooked by Bapi and Rosie. A Lamb curry with spiced Potatoes after we got back from the pub, Devilled Kidneys with Fried Duck Egg (from the book of St Hugh of Whittingstall) for breakfast.
Afterwards, I managed a bracing walk which involved a hill (booo) but which ended at another pub (hurrah). In this neck of the woods that usually means a roaring fire, a glorious view and most importantly of all a well kept pint of the aforementioned Tim Taylors. It’s definitely not Grim Up North any more – blimey, I might even be persuaded to buy a place up here.