Chatting to my friend last week about our summer sun adventures, we reminisced about the water sports, the beer and of course the food – one small catalan restaurant in particular (Pica Pica) that served some of the best tapas I had ever tasted. The thoughts of patatas bravas, gambas pil pil (Garlic Prawns) and alioli ran rings through my mind for the rest of that week until I could take no more. Looking to re-capture the warm sunny feeling that I had on the beach of Cala Galdana, Menorca, I searched the streets for Chester’s answer to my cravings. I settled on El Gato Negro at The Bluebell on Northgate Street.
The tapas bar/restaurant is totally unassuming, set back in its premises in the oldest inn in Chester, said to have been built in 1494. As you step past the heavy wood framed precipit you are greeted with a warm welcome from the bar and waiting staff alike. It gives the feeling that you have just walked into a Spanish family’s home and they have been waiting with baited breath for you to arrive. The decor is rustic with low light, thick hardwood beams and solid oak tables and chairs. You could be forgiven for thinking you had just stepped into a street bar in Andalucia. The staff were attentive from the start with recommendations and guidance for which dishes to try, without being too pushy. But I knew what we were here for.
On the Tuesday night in question, there was a special offer on selected Tapas dishes, any three of 12 dishes for £10.95 – one of the more modest prices I have seen in the UK. We opted for the classics to begin with, patatas bravas, potatoes smothered in a rich and spicy tomato sauce, and patatas alioli, potatoes covered in a homemade pungent garlic mayo that you could smell before it arrived. We also chose the spicy pork meatballs. These really packed a punch, and I’m not sure whether it was the sadistic pleasure they inflicted on my tastebuds or the actual taste that would entice me to choose them again.
The food tasted superb but the volume left a lot to be desired and resulted in another round of tapas being ordered. We chose to venture to the full price menu on this round choosing croquetas jamon y queso – ham and cheese croquets (£4.95). The croquets weren’t much to look at and resembled something that would be more fitting in a children’s birthday party, while the taste could not sway me to buy them again either. They were bland and felt as if they had just been defrosted. Our second platter was Costillas de Pedro Ximenez (£5.95). These were apparently meant to be fall-off-the-bone ribs in a sticky Pedro Ximenez sauce. Unfortunately neither the waitress or chef could clarify what the sauce was made of, which was a worry as they say the restaurant’s food is all hand made in house. As for the ribs themselves, I will not be buying them again. The meat was grissly and, at points, so tough that I gave up half way through. We ended the second round with gambas pil pil (£6.50). This dish was the highlight of the night, even if the amount of prawns we received was a little underwhelming (six). The prawns came in a boiling garlic broth that was literally sizzling and spitting everywhere, but the taste was certainly worth the danger.
The presentation of all of our dishes was true to the restaurant’s mediterranean roots, as each appetiser was served in a terracotta dish with a heavy pot jug of water to accompany the meal. As well as the water, we selected from the rather underwhelming and over priced wine menu, a bottle of Corte Alta Prosecco from Italy (£20).
My experience at El Gato Negro was a bit hit and miss, four out of six dishes were excellent but the other two were as if they had come from a different kitchen. It didn’t manage to rekindle those summer feelings I had on the beach in Menorca. Instead it felt like a bit of a damp squib, and left me thinking that I should have chosen to go to the rival tapas bar across the road (Porta).
You can check out the menu by clicking here