“Finally made it. And yes, The Black Cat can still do it”
Bit late to the party! El Gato has been wowing the Manchester scene with its high end Spanish tapas for a couple of years now. After a few abortive attempts I finally took The Flame along for a pre-gig tea.
I’ve been a few times for cocktails and have marvelled at the quality of the fit out that has been applied to this fine, three story, former retail outlet. It was pitched straight into the pedestrianised high end clothing scene in King Street. It was a strange location at the time, but it seems to have held its own despite a couple of other close by failures.
There a swathes of polished oak, and potentially lots of cattle have laid down their lives for the seat coverings, (though I’m sure high quality faux may have been used!). If you’re really interested in the fit out, Sian Astley describes it far better than me in her Moregeous blog link here.
We were on the second floor facing out to ‘Jack Wills’ and ‘Rapha’. Arguably the ‘golden table,’ it was a cracking spec. The menu preamble from chef patron Simon Shaw suggested three tapas each to start, so we duly obliged. A bottled pale ale and a mango fizz started the liquid proceedings.
Within minutes the sourdough bread with oil and balsamic, the mixed salad with avocado and the Serrano ham with celeriac roulade were in place ready for battle.
Further down the line my chargrilled octopus with capers and the morcilla scotch eggs on a mushroom duxelle with aioli arrived. Both triumphs. The soft grilled richness of the ‘pus’ offset wonderfully by the pickling and sharpness of the shallot and caper. The soft boiled quails eggs revealed their innards to perfection after bequeathing their meaty outer shell of blood and crumb, truly historic.
In keeping with the tapas tradition, whereby chef simply releases the dish as soon as it is ready, it was a fairly lengthy wait for the final flourish of chicken thighs with mijo picon and shallots. Worth the wait though.
I then had a traditional almond tart with cream to finish. I begrudgingly allowed the two spoon option, thus allowing The Flame a morsel or two. All in, the event turned in at a fairly hefty £72, which for a quick tea might take some swallowing for some. Its quality stuff though and walking round the place it soon became apparent that the place is holding up well. Most tables were full and the third floor boasts a retractable roof giving it a tremendous outdoor feel.
We loved it, definitely put it on the list for a special event on your next visit to Manchester.
El Gato Negro Tapas,
52 King Street,
“Angela Hartnett’s informal Italian emporium doesn’t disappoint”
Housed alongside more mainstream offers in Covent Garden the Cafe Murano cuts a rather elegant dash. Tastefully understated sagey green paintwork with gold lettering smacked of class. We’d booked a 5.30 session on account of a classical ‘Evanescence’ gig on the South Bank (a pleasant stroll over Waterloo Bridge).
We ventured in. Its like The Tardis, it goes back miles. Its already bustling, so much so we are eventually seated upstairs beneath a latticework roof. Blue leather, smart oak work and graphical prints took the eye.
We’re soon on the menu. A sumptuous a La Carte is on offer, though we plumb for the single A5 sheet, easter special, three courses for £28. A sixteen pound demi decanter of red is soon in situ, along with the branded water.
An amouse bouche of mushroom arancini is wolfed down with glee. I order up the octopus with baby gem, datterini and basil salad. Perfect slices of tender tentacle with a beautifully dressed, simple salad. The Flame went for an equally simple tuna cappachio, grapefruit, samphire, chilli and hazelnut salad. Both exquisite.
For the main course I went for the lamb roast, salsa rosso, jersey royals with mint and fennel. For an extra £4 I went for a cheesy dollop of salty polenta. The lamb melted with flavour. The Flame had the sea bream with baby gem and a Sicilian caponata. She also had a mixed salad side. By now the place had filled up and the wine was flowing.
Our service, as expected was exemplary. We chose desserts off piste so to speak. I had arguably the best tiramisu Ive ever had. Wonderfully soft, boozy and creamy. The Flame had a slightly disappointing cheese dish. Marred slightly by the mustard jelly accompaniment which wasn’t to her taste at all. It was pretty powerful stuff I must admit.
All in all though a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Smart service, elegant surroundings with beautifully simple food made using the finest ingredients. Angela has a deli next door (Pastificio) and another smarter gaff in St James Street. We didn’t get chance to check the others out but I’m sure they’ll all be quality. I’d be there again in a shot…
0203 535 7884 coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk 34 Tavistock Street London WC2E 7PB
020 7240 3654 coventgarden @cafemurano.co.uk 36 Tavistock Street London WC2E 7PB Pastificio
020 3371 5559 reception @cafemurano.co.uk 33 St. James’s Street London SW1A 1HD
“Another branch of Manchester’s ‘Little Italy’ is doing the business. If its pasta you need you’ll go far to get any better than The Pasta Factory in Manchester’s Shudehill”
Rather than pail and wallow, The Cooktwit when left to grapple as one is a hardy soul. Indeed there are times when dining on ones lonesome can be considered one of life’s great pleasures. Such a time occurred recently when I stumbled upon The Pasta Factory. Set in what one may describe as ‘the edgier side of town*’ this oasis of egg and flour turned out to be a surprising little gem.
The building itself is a fine old pile. A former bank HQ no less. Considering the rampant authenticity of the offer, ‘The Pasta Factory’ strikes as an unusual moniker. The playful logo, the assertion that ‘You Will Eat Pasta’ and the entrance wall of text are straight from the nearby Northern Quarter cafe start up manual. Inside its different though. You fall straight into Puglia**. Tiled floors, dark matching furniture, ubiquitous pasta cues, wine displays, chalk board specials all wrapped in rough hewned red and white paintwork. Allied to the Mediterranean backing track it’s a wonderfully informal setting and one that immediately set the solitary frame of The Cooktwit at his ease.
The engaging front of house chaps soon had the spartan menus up for perusal. Starters (or Taglieri) are simplicity itself. Its antipasto for one, two, three, four or five! I had it for one (£7). Aged ham wrapped around melon, a ricotta tartlet, cubes of salty, thyme infused feta, crispy kale, anchovies, pickled vegetables with tuna, olives and flatbread. I might have missed a bit too. It was exquisite.
The main menu is an A4 sheet in yellow and red (though you get a vegan page too). Its basically pasta. No chips, pizza or anything deep fried here. The pasta is freshly made on the premises and are sold in packs to take out too. It comes in all shapes and sizes, most of which I have never seen or heard of before. The pasta comes with a variety of sauces each with seafood, vegetables or locally sourced venison.My selection for the eve was ‘Bucatini Nero con il Polipo’ (£13.50), which is squid ink pasta with marinated octopus with sun blushed tomato and basil. It was a smashing portion. Perfectly cooked pasta, with ‘globs’ of octopus, slicked in a rich, deep red tomato sauce. Very satisfying.
I had to finish with something sweet. The menu offers three standards that are on all the time. I was tempted by the panna cotta but then went for one of the specials chalked up on one of the many chalkboards. I had the passion fruit and coconut cake with passion fruit sorbet (£5). Bit like a proper baked cheesecake on a hazelnut crumb base. It came on a heavy slate sprinkled with coconut. Again really good, if not slightly unusual. Perhaps I would have preferred ice cream but hey if this is how The Pasta Factory do it. Who am I to argue?
With a ladies glass of ruby red Barbera (£8), a belated slug of a sensational, hand crafted Italian IPA and a super cafetiere coffee, the whole lot came in at £35. If there is a better way to spend one and half hours on your own in Manchester then I would like to know all about it. A thoroughly splendid binge. If ever you find yourself straying from the centre don’t forget to head up Shudehill, there’s a treat waiting….
* Though no doubt will soon be slap bang centre of the latest hip Manchester scene! ** Not that I’ve ever been, but I imagine this is what it would be like!
The Pasta Factory 77 Shudehill Street M4 4AN Manchester
Yet another northern torrential downpour threatened to dampen the hungry spirit as The Cooktwit and The Flame headed East on one of Northern Rails, 1980’s, heritage trolley carts, such is the downtrodden quality of 21st century transport when heading to the Liverbased metrop of Liverpool. We were heading to highly recommended gastrogaff ‘Salthouse Tapas’. The place is sited close to the mega retail emporium ‘Liverpool One’, a sort of posh, newer version of Manchester’s Arndale. In truth The Flame is not a great fan of the small plate, informal dining experience known as ‘tapas’. So given that this was my choice, it was with some slight trepidation that we ventured along the rain soaked streets. To be fair a late burst of evening sun had lightened the mood. We even skipped the last few yards!
From the outside things are promising. A lofty, Victorian structure, complete with curved frontage and contemporary, bold font signage. A roped off alfresco area sits out front. The afternoon’s inclemency meant that only a few random smokers were braving it when we arrived. We stepped up into the fray to be confronted by a riotous din. The bar hits first, a table of eight drinkers were seemingly well into the final throws of stupor as they shrieked their conversations. It wasn’t the best start. To be fair within seconds a lean, bearded chap had ushered us to our table for two. The noise seemed to continue and reverberate throughout the set. We quickly realised this is how it is. Thankfully having asked the flame for her hand in marriage thirty years ago, I knew I wouldn’t be required to go down on one knee and whisper sweet nothing’s tonight. I spared a thought for any hapless young buck who did have it in mind though. I doubt his future betrothed would have heard a word he was saying! Still mustn’t quibble, Anna (our initial waitress) had us settled and a Mango Margerita and a Campari were soon winging across. Flipping lovely they were too.
As is the norm nowadays a quick survey of the decor confirmed that we were indeed in a trendy place. The obligatory old school chairs were strewn around the place. The place settings doubling up as your menu (a la Beef and Pudding, Solita, to name but a few). I must say I quite like this idea. Keeps everything simple and as a bonus I could read it without me specs. We were downstairs in the main room which was filling up nicely. A mezzanine above seemed full as well. The atmosphere was building.
We ordered a bottle of Malbec (£16.95) and a shared platter of charcuterie to start (Monroyo Serrano ham, loin, chorizo, salchichon, bead and olive oil £9.95). We had developed a bit of a habit of ordering this in Sicily recently and this brought it back. If I’m honest this was better. Delivered on a table tennis bat it looked and tasted wonderful.
The reason(s) the flame has reservations on tapas is several fold 1) she doesn’t want me dipping in, sharing her food across the table (as if – Ed) and 2) she doesn’t like having food on her own as tapas doesn’t always arrive together as in a normal three course dinner. We ordered two dishes each after the ham platter. Bang on cue, within a few minutes the two dishes ordered by the flame turned up. In fairness though they were both very good. First up The roast hake fillet with Serrano ham, fennel and sherry jus (£6.50). The picture doesn’t do it justice, a soap bar sized slab of pure white beautifully cooked fish bathed in a sweet sauce with fennel julienne layered on top. I managed a morsel and it was delightful. The flame loved it and declared dish of the day. The second dish was the hot smoked salmon with a Bloody Mary salad (£5.50). Not my cup of tea to be honest but bang on for the flame. Despite not being ‘hot’ as such she declared it a winner.
Then came my first choice ‘Roasted lamb rump with broad beans, olives and red peppers’ (£7.50). This was superb. The lamb perhaps a shade more well done than I would have preferred, but nonetheless the combination of colours, the sweet, slightly crisp lamb (on the outside) and the olive oil dressing made for a stunning dish. It wouldn’t have looked out of place at Mr Coopers. My second dish was the ‘Galician Octopus with sautéed new potatoes, lemon and paprika’ (£5.50). Lots of smokey, paprika flavours. I would have liked a few tentacles on there to give it a bit more drama and look a bit more like octopus, but a lovely dish. I did notice quite a lot of ‘Malaga Fried Fish with lemon and aioli’ coming out. Looked like you got a decent portion and looked great on its plank.
After a few minutes rest and deliberation we decided to plumb for another quick savoury dish. We noticed the special of ‘chicken and chorizo sliders’ (£5.50) were flying out as well. As there was two per portion we had one each. Miniature brioche bun with mini chicken schnitzel, chorizo sausage and cheese skewered together in a neat little package. Hot, well cooked and very tasty. A lovely final tapas. As ever I ventured into the desert section and wolfed down a ‘Roasted Rhubarb Pavlova with Chantilly cream and passion fruit syrup’ (£4.95). Oh boy, I like my ‘meringuey’ deserts and so this hit the spot no problem, sweet, sticky and tangy. A lovely end. A decent brew mopped up and left us to pay the £75 all in.
I love El Rincon in Manchester. You can’t beat the Spanish atmosphere, but I’d have to say the presentation and quality of food at the Salthouse was better, and for similar money. There’s still plenty on the menu to try so I reckon we’ll be back.
We went for a romantic evening stroll down the Liverpool front afterwards. What better way to help get the digestive juices flowing? We had a great night. We will defiantly be giving Liverpool another go. I wonder where to next? Salt House Charcuterie and Tapas 1 Hanover Street Liverpool 0151 706 0092 http://www.salthousetapas.co.uk