Tag Archives: spanish

El Gato Negro Tapas – Manchester

“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,
M2 4LY

0161 694 8585



Baratxuri – Ramsbottom

“Another wonderfully elegant splash of Spain has wafted onto the streets of Ramsbottom!” 

The weather forecast (even for Lancashire!) was looking good. “This is it!” I motioned to long suffering companion The Flame, “Ramsbottom, here we go, I need to try Baratxuri pronto”. To explain Baratxuri is the younger sister of long time favourite Levanter (reviewed here). Both based in Ramsbottom, both the ‘brainchildren’ of Joe and Fiona, both serve up authentic Spanish cuisine of the highest quality. Levanter is billed as a tapas (small plates) bar; Baratxuri touts itself as a Pintxos (pronounced Peen cho!) bar. 


Whereas Levanter is wonderfully rustic, Baratxuri seems to have a more elegant feel. Similar in size, galley at the back, bar to the right, the walls are clad in a patchwork of colourful Spanish tiles. A slinky jazz track buzzes in the background. We selected one of only two tables in front of the sun kissed window. Most people where then left to sit on high bar stools around a beer barrel or up to a fitted café bar. Chalked boards detail the food on offer. I reckon twenty covers would fill it. It is a fabulously, relaxing space.


Apparently Pintxo is a Basque word that literally means a “spike”. This would explain why all the bite sized goodies on the bar where harpooned with a wooden pick. The idea is that you slink up to the bar, order your txacoli (traditional dry white wine), take a plate and fill up with the exquisite morsels. They are £3 a pop. You simply stack the picks in a glass which formulates your Pintxo bill at the end. Great way to dine.

The spikes! of Pintxos

As well as the small bites on the bar, a small board sets out further pintxos that are ordered up hot and fresh from the kitchen. Typically £4.50 each. Sunday adds the magnificent Mariscada as a special at £35 to share. As a lover of seafood it was this special that I was particularly keen to try. The Mariscada is a forty minute wait, (though it took around fifty! for us). We settled with a couple of Pintxos to satiate our cravings, one crab and one ham and cheese. Both decidedly pleasant. I missed out on a small bucket of octopus, one of the other pintxos that came out later.

Finally having watched a couple of others come out before us, and after the tools, tomato salad and bread, our ‘feast of the sea’ was placed before us. A true sight to behold I’m sure you’ll agree?


A dressed crab, half a lobster, sensational scallops on a bed of peppers and fennel sausage, grilled sardine, a mound of whitebait, two fabulous carabineros prawns and a bucket of lobster bisque. All piping hot and ready to go. We set about the task in hand with gusto. We picked, mopped, sucked, crunched, and slurped our way through a glorious tray of the freshest finery of the sea.


Though not a big fan of seafood, even The Flame acknowledged the quality of presentation and value for money. We watched many people, couples and friends come and go. Some would grab a draft of Spanish beer others the wine and some pintxos, then simply move on. It all works superbly. All in we settled up at £48 pluis tip for a superb lunch. Allied to the friendly and knowledgeable staff it counts as another triumph for Joe and Fi and  yet another ‘foodie’ reason to head over to Ramsbottom. What a place this is….



1 Smithy St,

01706 559090


La Casa Vieja – St Helens

“A little bit of Spain, in St Helens!”

It was a cold winters night. The Cooktwit and The Flame had bagged a spot in a party of ten at ‘La Casa Vieja’, a spanish restaurant in the heart of St Helen’s arty George’s Quarter. We were guests of St Helens ‘digital print magnate’ Keith Hughes. After a momentous Cooktwit paella cooked on a spade while camping in summer, Keith ‘the signage entrepreneur’ had declared that I need to get to La Casa Vieja to sample theirs. The time had come.

The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage
The courtyard, the castle gates, red/yellow signage

I entered the complex via the imposing castle gates, each decoratively regaled with a smart red and yellow sign (done by Keith!). I swept through into a quaint courtyard of jasmine and pergolas. Once more the red and yellow signage leapt into frame. One can imagine in summer this would be a thriving little spanish village. As it was deep December even the smokers had stayed away.

The Spanish Interior
The Spanish Interior

Once inside the Spanish theme is maintained. Guitars, hams, donkeys, lutes and various maps And paintings litter the walls and ceiling. It’s all rather quaint. A small half of ‘Alhambra’ lager was ordered as I waited for the rest of the gang. As we were the first in, the waitress handied us a couple of menus to peruse. I could be being a little churlish here, but in the subdued light the obligatory shiny, red, yellow, laminated menus were difficult to read and understand. Dishes flashed all over the place. And there was some large sums involved with some of them. Written with a felt tipped pen, a casual glance suggested this would not be a cheap night out. £6.75 for a dessert! This needed to be good. The menu format had an air of ‘English bar in Spain’ for me, but as I say I could be being churlish. Clear black on crisp white always works best for me.

The menu
The menu

Then the entourage assembled. Head visual guru Keith suggested we scrap the menu, go upstairs and see head chef and owner Manolo and see what’s in. Great call, I headed up and sure enough amongst the flurry of flames, steam and wonderful smells, a burly, rosy cheeked, Mediterranean chap, burst into song. We flung our favourites at him, liver, fish, seafood, steak, anything. He laughed and roared that everything is fresh and he has everything. “how many of you?”, “ten” we shouted. “Leave it to me, I will keep sending down the food”. It all seemed fair enough to me. I rushed down excited.

The start of the show, Manolo himself
The start of the show, Manolo himself

Sure enough the food started to arrive, olives, prosciutto, bread to start, then came meat balls, liver, beef in red wine, chicken in cream, chicken with chorizo and a glorious fruity salad, all gleefully imbibed by the waiting party. But the best was to come. After a short delay, in came an enormous silver platter drenched in food of the sea. Sadly my photos don’t do it justice. We drew our collective breath and dived in. Huge prawns dominated, closely followed by belly loads of squid, mussels, clams before moving down to flanks of salmon, sea bass, dorado all slicked in garlic, herbs and a light, seafood broth. It was divine. Despite ten of us piling in there was plenty to go round. We all got a bit of everything. Truly superb.

The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials
The fish platter, various dishes, salad and the specials

Toward the end Manolo himself came down to see how things were going. The thumbs were all well up. After asking whether the desserts were fresh and homemade and receiving a clip round the ear! He recommended the ‘Torija de vino’ fried marinated bread pudding in red wine, which sounded a bit dubious to me, but he was right. It was the best of the bunch. A caramelised egg flan and a chocolate mousse was up there too.

Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse
Marinated bread pudding, egg flan, chocolate mousse

Having quaffed red wine as well as the food. The bill tipped in at a reasonable £40 per head (with tip). We had a great time. I would definitely try it again, it is always gratifying to see at first hand, top raw materials being cooked fresh on the premises by a passionate chef. Service by most of Manolo’s family is top notch as well. St Helens has a little gem here. It’s very own morsel of Spain.

La Casa Vieja
6-12 Bickerstaffe Street,
Saint Helens WA10 1DH
01744 454613

The Millstone – Newton-le-Willows

“A little bit of the world in Newton le Willows!”

Difficult to believe but somehow it seems to work. The Millstone is a small hostelry offering International tapas. It is on Mill lane heading out of Newton. It’s a little bit out of the way to be part of the standard High Street pub crawl. It’s niche really is its small and friendly bar offering decent cask ales for its merry band of regulars. It doubles up as a pit stop for our Sunday stroll. The pub is only small, square in shape, symmetrical set in two. You walk through the central door to be greeted by the small well kept, ‘U’ shaped bar to the right. The small, ‘thirtyish’ covers dining area is set behind a partition to the left. Cream and navy paint allied to neat signage and oak furnishings present the gaff in a smart, contemporary manner.

Smart small square hostelry
Smart small square hostelry

A couple of big tellys in the bar side mean its a favourite with the sports fans. When we ventured in for a romantic trist we had not factored in the Rugby League Grand final. It was wonderful to be reminded throughout our meal that the Warrington Barmy Army were in and in fine fettle! Still such is the way the dining area is set off from the bar side you can enjoy your meal in relative seclusion. It was a little unusual on this occasion for it to be quite so raucous! Newton is a rugby town after all.

International tapas, extensive menu
International tapas, extensive menu

Head chef Paul uses quality local and international ingredients to produce the goods. His mediterranean influence sparked by a seven year stint running a restaurant in Portugal.  He prepares all the dishes to order on his trusty six burner stove and his huge collection of IKEA pans! This ensures the food is hot, tasty and perfectly cooked. Some dishes work, some don’t work quite so well. As well as the international tapas they do a steak on a stone, a traditional Sunday lunch and a first rate paella.

Steak on a stone, paella
Steak on a stone, paella

Platter,  salmon kebab, bury tapas, Panko cod

Platter, salmon kebab, bury tapas, Panko cod

Our opening platter of feta, anchovies, peppers and olives with warm bread was delightful. As were the spicy kidneys. My bury black pudding tapas in mustard cream was less so. The garish yellow sauce being a bit thin and sweet for me. The wine is good and well priced and my Thwaites Wainwright set the scene nicely.

In contrast to some tapas bars the morsels turn up together and are then dotted around your table. This gives me the chance to steal some of The Flames superior choice at will, much to her annoyance!

King prawn fajitas, lamb chops, chicken chorizo stew
King prawn fajitas, lamb chops, chicken chorizo stew

The menu is extensive and skirts around all walks of international cuisine. Spanish, Indian, Chinese, Mexican and many more all get a chance. I have witnessed a substantial paella in the past which I have yet to try. After our opening platter we ordered a further three dishes each (we were hungry!). The flame homed in on the fishy side of things which are thoughtfully listed separately. In no particular order we wolfed through a Cod in Panko breadcrumbs and a sweet chilli jam, salmon kebabs dusted in Cajun spices, Mini King Prawn fajitas, chicken and chorizo stew, bury black pudding in a mustard cream sauce and lamb cutlets. We washed this lot down with some spicy wedges and some warm bread.

The ensemble. Cosy dining area, Apple Betty
The ensemble. Cosy dining area, Apple Betty

The dishes are all around a fiver, plus or minus a quid if there’s some posh fish involved. For me the lamb cutlets won. Four beautifully cooked chops around eight millimetres thick (are you sure they weren’t 9mm? – Ed). Another highlight was the king prawn fajitas, well cooked prawns with a hint of heat. The flame reckoned the chicken and chorizo stew won and who am I to disagree? To be fair it was all pretty good. As I mentioned above the slight downer being the swimming sauce around Bury’s finest. Using my special dessert stomach I managed an apple Betty with three scoops of ice cream just to finish!

This lot all romped in at £60. We had quite a bit of grub and drink for that, after all we can both walk here! It was a crisp bright night so it was a pleasant walk home. So there you have it Newton has a few decent places to eat! We always nip to Ariete if we want Italian and Amans for Indian. If you want a flash of Spain, The Millstone is the one.

The Millstone
71 Mill Lane Newton-leWillows, Cheshire
01925 569306



El Rincon De Rafa – Manchester

El Rincon de Rafa is a Spanish Resteraunt plonked out of the way behind a Sainsburys. Although it is difficult to find I managed to stumble across it, with a couple of pals, after a very pleasant saunter through the principalities many and varied hostelries. Being a fleet of peckish males we plundered the menu with the veracity of piranhas bumping into a three legged buffalo kipping in a swamp with a bad cut.

I decided there and then I would have to bring the flame to sample the delights in a more refined manner. We were able to give it another chance on a casual Sunday afternoon with a couple of Yorkshire people! The main pad is decked out below ground, shrouded from the outside with a few simple tiles to point out that you are venturing into something special. The decor is dark wood panelling, painted walls and a flock of signed football shirts. I understand the local football fraternity grace the gaff on a regular basis.

This is a Spanish Resteraunt with a capital ‘S’. Traditional main plates such as paella can be ordered but we pitched in with a tranche of tapas and a couple of bottles of house red (a perfectly acceptable Temperanillo). We ensured a stock of ‘potatos bravas’, salad and bread remained on tap whilst we subjected ourselves to the unctuous flavours that come to those who have chicken livers swamped in rich red wine sauces, scallops basted in creamy jus and rice, wild boar, tortilla, olive oil drenched sardines, salty anchovies, spicy prawns and a sensational dish of scrambled eggs with black pudding. Whilst we were suitably stuffed from those wondrous flavours we then plumbed in for something sweet. The flame had a beautiful almond tart. One friend sampled the rolled almond and custard slices which were to die for. A couple of brandy coffees rounded everything off. A couple of hours had wizzed by. We had to part with around £30 per head for the privilege of having a fabulous meal with great friends in a superb, authentic, holiday atmosphere. The staff were Spanish and wonderfully attentive.

All in all this is a special place and when all the talk is of new resteraunts opening with celebrity chef patronage this has to be one of Manchester’s best kept secrets (if it is a secret!). These lads are going to have their work cut out to beat this.