Tapas restaurants are like burger joints, plenty of them about but a wide spectrum in terms of the quality of the food on offer. It might be a bad analogy, there’s a time and a place for a few sloppy offerings from the McDonalds saver menu (in my opinion) but I’ve never heard anyone say ‘let’s just grab some cheap, dodgy tapas to cure this hangover’.
Fortunately, the super-smart El Gato Negro Leeds doesn’t fall into that category. Not one bit. Situated in the bustling heart of Leeds – the corner of Park Row and Bond Street to be exact, El Gato Negro Leeds is the brainchild of Simon Shaw, owner and head chef.
Admittedly I didn’t know a lot about Simon before my visit to El Gato Negro Leeds but I was compelled to do a little bit of research after my visit (more on that soon I promise). Simon’s background tallies up with my experience of his cooking, he’s properly passionate about Spanish cuisine. The inaugural El Gato Negro in Manchester opened in 2005 following a trip he took to Catalonia and the Basque country. Since then, he’s branched out and expanded to Liverpool and Leeds. Plus Canto, a more Portuguese dining affair also based in Manchester. Simon and his team have cleared up when it comes to awards, check out their website for the full list but most notable are the Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2019 and the Oliver Awards 2020 where they bagged Overall Restaurant of the Year and Best World Restaurant. Impressive stuff.
I should probably talk about the food now… I visited with a mate for lunch on a Saturday afternoon and the place was nearly full. The restaurant itself is as smart as they come, lots of rustic vibes going on thanks to exposed brickwork and the stripped-back-to-wood ceiling. This is balanced by the contemporary punch of the bright blue steel joists criss-crossing above your head. I might just be feeling poetic but I think this summarises the food here perfectly so hear me out… It’s rustic, it’s a nod to the traditional even, but it has an undoubtable contemporary flair about it too.
We started of with some Padron peppers and *disclaimer* I’m biased when it comes to these bad boys. They’re hot, they’re salty, they’re sweet. What’s not to love? I’m not entirely sure what salt Simon has used on these (oh yeah, the main man was in the kitchen during my visit – RESULT) but I’m pretty sure it’s Maldon. Maldon salt is cheffy for a reason – because it’s excellent. Next up was the Charcuterie board, packed with Manchego, goats cheese, Serrano ham and some particularly good Ibérico. All that salty meat and cheese balanced perfectly with some quince jelly and blossom honey. If I could punctuate this feature with emojis I’d use the drooling face one. Loads.
True of all tapas restaurants worth visiting, the next dishes came out sporadically, according to when they were cooked. We were treated to tiger prawns with chilli, garlic and lemon butter (shells on, as they should be), harissa spiced chicken with a delicious Romesco sauce, beef fillet skewers that were as soft as butter and patatas bravas.
Now this may sound ridiculous but for me the humble patatas bravas was the standout dish. If you’re anything like me, you may have found yourself from time to time basing your opinion of a Sunday dinner on how good the Yorkshire puddings were. That’s how I feel about the patatas bravas at tapas restaurants. These weren’t an afterthought or a menu-filler. The potatoes were soft on the inside and perfectly crunchy on the outside, the tomato sauce was rich, flavourful and mildly spiced, the garlic aioli I could have consumed by the pint but the less said about that the better. For me? Perfection.
Get yourselves down to El Gato Negro Leeds asap if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, you will receive a warm welcome and particularly good tapas that is a cut above the average. I don’t do ‘ratings’ or marks out of ten, but I’m fortunate to be able to eat out a lot and this is the best tapas that I have had in Leeds to date.
35 Park Row, Leeds, LS1 5JL. T 0113 322 0763