I’d been thinking about coming here ever since I saw it on the Gordon Ramsay’s programme last year. Knowing that the selections on that programme had occasionally been a bit flaky, I hadn’t been in a rush, but its inclusion in the 2011 Good Food Guide clinched the trip for me. So, four of us made the schlep along the M62 to Ripponden. Now, I reckon going to a tapas place in a group – even a small group – has its downsides as well as its upsides. On the one hand, you get the opportunity to give the menu a good seeing-to but, on the other, it poses difficulties in ordering sufficient food that everyone’s going to enjoy.
As we walked in, we were immediately welcomed by chef and owner, Simon. He'd been tipped the wink that we were coming by someone from another foody board. He suggested some Padron peppers to get us started while we looked over the menu. I like the menu – the actual menu as well as the food. It’s a paper placemat – you tick what you want and give it to the server. It fits the casual style of El Gato. Simon chatted through some of his signature dishes before leaving us to decide, suggesting that we’d want to order around a dozen dishes for the four of us. In the event, I think we clocked up 19 (including three double portions and one quad of bread). Many dishes on the menu are classics of the tapa genre. Others are on good nodding acquaintance with Spanish cuisine; a few seemed to have more tenuous links.
The peppers had been great – expertly fried, so not greasy, and a good sprinkling of salt. Roasted almonds and marinated anchovies on crostini quickly followed. And then, in no particular order as they were cooked, we had:
Jamon croquetas – light and delicate
Belly pork, roasted scallop and morcilla. Quite a cheffy presentation here, with a couple of blobs of sauce and a foam.
Lamb kebabs, chickpea puree, harrisa and yoghurt. Absolutely delicious although perhaps more Moroccan than Spanish (although Spain continues to occupy part of that country so the link is there).
A double portion of black ink rice, avocado and squid. Another dish that was absolutely bang-on for rich flavour. Simon seemed to spend almost as much time out of the kitchen as in it and on one of his visits to the table told us that it was a simple dish relying on the quality of the fish stock to cook the rice. Fab.
Catalan bread with olive oil, garlic and tomato – pa amb tomaquet. This was the quad order of bread – a single order getting you just two slices. Delicious – well worth ordering seconds. And nthirds and fourths.
Catalan fish stew was much of a soup than stew. Clams, squid, scallop, small fillets of an unknown fish (bass?) in a rich liquid. As with a number of offerings, this cried out for bread – not the above Catalan bread – but just lots of ordinary bread, as you get everywhere in Spain, to mop up the juices. Just stick a loaf on everyone’s table, Simon, and build in the cost.
Syrian lentils were good and earthy. Patatas bravas were patatas bravas (thanks for this freebie, Simon).
We’d also had a couple of the specials – chorizo cooked with cider was poky with chilli, while a double portion of ribs cooked in Pedro Ximenez sherry were sweet, the sauce a bit too thin for good “clinging” quality. Nice to eat these two dishes in succession.
And, finally, a small selection of regional Spanish cheese, served with bread, quince paste and pressed fig (pan de higo?).
Aside from the above comment about the need for mopping –up bread, this was cooking at a good standard. Good ingredients, well executed. There wasn’t a single duff dish amongst the lot. And, unlike many tapas places, no sense that the microwave had just pinged.
The drinkers had carafes of white and red wine and shared a bottle of Inedit beer developed by Ferran Adria and the Catalan brewers, Damm. Simon said El Gato was, I think, one of only ten outlets in the UK to offer it. The drinkers liked everything.
Service throughout the evening had been great. Obviously it was aided by Simon’s personal contribution but he is well assisted by his front of house team. It is possible to eat here cheaply – there’s an offer of 6 tapas (chef’s choice) and a bottle of wine for two people at £35. But ordering from the menu can quickly rack up the bill, with dishes such as the fish stew costing £12 and the bellypork/scallop/morcilla dish at £9.50 – and a single order is designed as a small tapa for two people. But, all in all, well worth the trip.
Royal Hospital Rd, Kensington, Greater London SW3 4, GB