Review: El Gato Negro, Manchester

Working hard on building Moregeous Mansions means cutting back on restaurant trips & travel and I hugely miss the interior inspiration which only comes from getting out and about. The internet is all very well, but good interiors touch your senses in other ways than simply the visual. A picture doesn’t allow you to feel a tactile brick surface, hear the echoes of elevated room heights or smell the oils in rich timbers.

So….. having read about the challenges which faced the build and design team during works, I was very much looking forward to seeing the transformation of the high narrow ex-retail building at No52 King Street into new Spanish restaurant El Gato Negro. The team under chef patron Simon Shaw have relocated to Manchester from Ripponden, where their tapas dishes gathered a host of awards and rave reviews. El Gato Negro Tapas  Moregeous Blog 0004The ground floor of the tall, slender property – likely to have once been a residential home – is designed to seat 50 and has a warm, welcoming feel. The waist-high marble tables and rich burnt orange upholstery work well together, set against exposed red brickwork and dark timbers. I love the elegantly imposing open bar with charcuterie & food table where we watched chef Simon prep the Para Picar: sweet & succulent Gillardeau oysters, Padrón peppers and tangy anchovy fillet crostinis. The atmosphere feels very Spanish, not easy on a cold night in Manchester.

DSC01249.JPGEl Gato Negro Tapas  Moregeous Blog 0001El Gato Negro Tapas  Moregeous Blog 0002The lighting scheme throughout is eclectic but considered. It’s clear that lots of thought has gone into it, rather than lazy purchases off the designer shelf. These vintage crystal chandeliers opposite the main ground floor bar are quite lovely.DSC01250Also very cool is a display of more utilitarian pendants, though they were very low and positioned right in front of an interesting steam punk wall installation. They maybe could have been hung at differing heights to show it off a bit more…. what do you think?DSC01241El Gato Negro avoids a faddish nod to all things industrial by limiting the trend to mostly stairwell lighting, utilising galvanised trunking, pipework fittings and fabric cabling to create feature lights. Though not exactly a factory, the city centre property can take this look, largely because of its proportions but also the fact that some of the fabric & steels of the building have been left exposed, creating the necessary backdrop for this very on trend style. El Gato Negro Moregeous 12.jpgEl Gato Negro Tapas Moregeous 006One major challenge the team faced was to make the building restaurant ready, with all the ducting, pipework and steels necessary for such a transformation. To help avoid a factory feel, opulence and colour is cleverly added with burnt sienna shaded upholstery in velvet and leather, and giant colourful splashes of abstract art. The paintings have all been created by resident drinks maestro Garry Foy, a man who can not only win your heart with a mean cocktail, but paint you a unique piece of artwork. And he’s a nice guy too. Yep blokes of Manchester, that’s the bar set right there, no pun intended.DSC01266.jpgThe attention to detail is high and I’ll bet there were joiners and tilers cursing some of the design decisions. The black gloss tiles pictured below are used throughout and make a refreshing change from the ubiquitous (though I do still love them) metros. Not an easy wall to tile this, with all these cuts, but they’ve done a fine job.DSC01260On the hallway side the detail was spot on too: muted colours, a beautiful leaded finish to the glass and elegantly slender vertical wall panelling. I’m a stickler for detail on my projects and it makes my heart smile to see such care go into making interiors look fabulous.DSC01262DSC01261Up on the first floor is the main restaurant, an elongated, energetic space with an open kitchen and a mix of booth and tabled seating. Sitting near the kitchen in some restaurants feels slightly frenetic, like you’re in the cheap seats (and certainly not on Simon Rimmer’s Golden Table) but not here. Maybe because the booths are slightly elevated, spacious & super comfy, we had the perfect view of a meticulously orchestrated hive of foodie activity.El Gato Negro Moregeous 010The cages above the pass are brilliant. I want one for my kitchen at home but simply don’t have the height in the room. This may take some thinking about but I’m pretty determined and even created a Cages Pinterest board a few months ago. Maybe mine will need to be wide & fat rather than tall & skinny!

The same vertical panelling from the stairwell is nicely featured again at hight level, the decorative cornice softens the industrial feel and the wirework cage lighting is kept subtle and high at ceiling level.

DSC01288.jpgThose glossy black tiles from downstairs are used again on the first floor, adding  a sense of continuity through the building and forming a dramatic kitchen splashback. Gorgeous as a backdrop for all the coppers and golds on the serving platters too.DSC01269The trend for open shelving in kitchens isn’t for the faint hearted as this only looks good with neatly stacked, unchipped crockery and nicely lined up bottles. Like so below.

It’s also a nice choice to have vintage style, almost homely cabinets which ensure the space feels less like a restaurant and more like your madre’s kitchen.El Gato Negro Moregeous 011I clocked some  Twittering about a giant cross found in a salvage yard and found it in the quieter seated section. It looks superb up on the original layered brickwork. You can’t beat a great junk yard find and this one must have made the design team do a little Spanish flamenco!DSC01272This party wall was particularly challenging I hear, with different layers of bricks from different time periods, presumably some tied in and some not. I’m a big fan of this revealing of the historical context and leaving it on show, adding glamour in layers with artwork and decadent lighting.

El Gato Negro Roof Joby Catto
Image Joby Catto for the MEN

Finally up on the top floor, people gathered to chill out on the banquette seating and around the leather clad Black Cat cocktail bar. It’s got a different feel to it up there, much lighter with plank timber walls and a more Ibizan vibe. The floor zoning in chequerboard encaustic tiles frames the area well and the bar is beautifully lit. There aren’t many places in Manchester where you can sit outside and still be comfy but the very decadent retractable roof over this space means it’s fairly unique to the city. I can also attest that the cocktails are very good and I was studious in trying several. Unlike me however, please don’t eat the dried grasshopper on the Grasshopper cocktail, thinking you’re on IACGMOOH. It wasn’t pretty and Mr M & the waitress were both crying laughing when the wings flew back up, the buggars.El Gato Negro Moregeous 017El Gato Negro Moregeous 018Last but not least – the littlest rooms and unusually different, especially up on the top floor. Those pesky metros have sneaked in on the ground floor but they’re decent ones with a good border tile, a crisp chequerboard floor and stylish moss green paintwork to the walls & timber so it’s all round a good look. Nice loo roll holder too!El Gato Negro Moregeous 013Weirdly, one of my favourite bits of the whole design is in the loos on the 2nd floor. It’s a brave decision just to leave things be sometimes and pointing up or plastering over old brickwork is very tempting. The juxtaposition of crisp ceramic & perfect painting against bare, unvarnished, unfilled bricks is ace. Or is that just me? #lady builder :))))

Maybe if you’re going to try this at home, it’s any idea to scrub bricks clean of dust etc and seal them. Check out this How To.El Gato Negro Moregeous 014El Gato Negro Moregeous 015.jpgThe food was pretty damned good too, it kinda goes without saying if you’ve seen the visitors so far raving on social media. Mr M and I rarely down tools at the moment so it was a rare and wonderful treat! Lots of other bloggers will be doing foodie posts for you to check out, but for what it’s worth my favs were the oysters, the pork belly on arrocina beans, the Syrian lentils and the Barnsley chop…. we will be going back for more 🙂

And I will be having a cage. Somewhere.


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