El Gato Negro
1 Oldham Road, Ripponden
Tel: 01422 823070
Open: Mon – Sat 6.00pm – 11.00pm
Lunch: Wed – Sat 12.00 – 2.30pm
A Tapas bar in Ripponden, I groan at the thought. Here we go, another bright spark, fuelled by Sangria and too much sun thinking this would be good at home.
“Can’t be much to it; a few odds and sods on sticks and a bit of bread, I’ll be rich in no time”.
I have seen more of these holiday dreams open, and then close faster than a fading suntan, than I care to think about.
A great tapas bar needs the searing Andalucian sun or the buzz of Barcelona to make it work. Or does it?
Emblazoned across the front of the former Junction pub in Ripponden is El Gato Negro – the Black Cat - in bold letters and a slightly scary cartoon cat with yellow eyes. It looks a touch out of place among the dark stone buildings of the sombre Pennine town. Inside however, though there is no trace of the cosy boozer left, there is a bright, clean refurbishment, which cleverly exudes a sense of ease and warmth.
Chef Simon Shaw plus business partner and able front of house manager Chris Williams took over the Junction last year. Following the formula of successful dining pubs, they offered a strong a la carte menu - to show off Simon’s talents at the stove - and something less costly and more accessible for the casual diner in a Tapas menu. Neither it seems expected the overwhelming success of the tapas. 70% of sales in a short time. Out went the posh nosh and the tapas took over.
The first offering (after drinks) on arrival is a paper menu with tick boxes next to it. The Spanish on it is intimidating but no fear. Sitting down next to us (in a very TGI Friday’s kind of way) Chris explained what they are, how they are cooked, and how to order. He advised we order no more than ten small dishes between the four of us. Did we listen? No. We ordered thirteen and were overwhelmed. The portions are not that small.
At the top end price-wise (£7.50), we ordered a platter of Spanish meats: Salchichon, Lomo, Serrano Ham, Chorizo Artisan Leon. All excellent and clearly have not seen the inside of a supermarket plastic wrapper. On the side of the plate was a creamy, tangy remoulade and the only complaint was more would have been welcome. The bottom end (£1.85), pillow soft Catalan bread with a good slug of olive oil, garlic and juicy, ripe plum tomatoes.
Tender succulent baby pork ribs marinated in Pedro Ximenoz Sherry reduction to create a sticky unctuous sauce (£3.75) suited the men. The Syrian lentils, a heavenly curried blend I thought only we girls would eat, we all fought over (£2.50). Morcilla (black pudding to you and me) with a fried duck egg (£5.50) is understandably fast becoming a signature dish with Padron Peppers and Maldon sea salt (£2.85) close behind. These peppers are not for the fainthearted. Somewhere within each dish, there is a mixture of mild peppers and the occasional fire hot one waiting to bite you. Sobrosada, - Mallorcan spicy sausage – with its fiery heat and piquancy was aother hit all-round.
I felt sorry for the stalwart tapas, Tortilla of the day and the Tiger Prawns. Both excellent but eclipsed by the boldness of the others we chose.
The food flows from the kitchen. Who is controlling it I was not sure but the service was seamless. There was always on the table at least four dishes and as one started to disappear the next appeared. The order in which they arrived carefully worked out with the intensity of flavours increasing. Very clever.
Chris and Simon have a success on their hands.. They have seen what their customers want and give it to them. Though they fly in the face of the current trend of using only local foods, (they import many ingredients from Spain directly or through specialist suppliers); the quality of what they deliver is the best and hey, there is room for variety.
One of the best places I have eaten in a long time (including Spain).