Simon Shaw, already a chef with an enviable reputation, took a trip to Catalonia and Basque country, and conceived a passion for the best of tapas cuisine. I remember a family restaurant in the Basque region, run by two sisters. They spoke no English, yet we communicated through the names and taste of dishes, lovingly prepared. My school-girl Spanish was not sufficient to grasp the Basque language. It was a memorably enjoyable, surreal experience.
Words: Jean Hill
Simon’s trip changed his life. He opened a modest restaurant serving tapas dishes, that won accolades, and a Michelin Bib Gourmand. He opened El Gato Negro in Manchester: that was awarded an AA rosette, and Michelin Bib Gourmand awards.
The new restaurant in Liverpool is in a beautiful location, with views stretching across the Flags to the Town Hall. The building has been lovingly restored. We stepped onto pristine polished wood flooring, gazed in awe at the spectacular lighting and admired the vibrant, original art work. The seating and décor are in subdued shades of moss, leaf green, and jade, with a splash of rose. The seating is classically elegant. All a feast for the senses; as we listen to Simon Shaw explaining the tasting menu.
We started with Ostra Regal oysters, (wonderfully juicy and tender) with pickled cucumber and wasabi tobiko, a fresh, clean taste. Next came Dorset crab, avocado, essence of gazpacho and caviar. The crab was finely minced, with a subtle flavour, carefully balanced with avocado. My favourite dish sounded uncomplicated: artichoke and mushroom risotto. The hit of essence of mushroom, and the depth of moisture and flavour in the rice made the risotto with white onion, artichoke, cep mushrooms and grated Manchego, truly special. The salt aged lamb ribs had a rich sweetness with jamon liberico and mint. The Crianza Rioja was smooth and rich. This was all finished off with a classic Crème Catalan.
I heard a well-respected chef, Sean Paul Redding, declare that this is the best tapas to be found in Liverpool. It was quite a sensual experience, and intriguing to discover one or two new dishes. The staff were all excited to be there: their enthusiasm was spilling over. Great venue for a celebration or a party, or that special intimate dinner.
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