A HALF dozen glistening shells on ice, cradling the fleshiest of oysters, topped with pickled cucumber, yuzu juice and ‘green caviar’ (tobiko fish roe infused with wasabi to give colour and spice). The culinary composition has the delicacy of a Hokusai print, the salt tang of clean seas. Welcome back the family Guillardeau’s impeccable ‘speciales’. £4.50 an oyster but worth it. All they need is a glass of Manzanilla to accompany and it’s on its way.
What better start to a sampling of the spring menu at El Gato Negro, where chef-patron Simon Shaw’s homage (sic) to the Spanish food he loves is not afraid of dealing in ingredients beyond Iberia’s shores? Neither are the French oyster dynasty, founded a century ago near La Rochelle but these days happy to source many of their toothsome bivalves from Ireland.
I’ve no idea of the provenance of the Padron peppers that quickly follow, just glad that here almost alone you do get socked by the occasional fiery one – I call it Galician Roulette. That same province has a way too with octopus, which I can never resist – here its is imply char-griilled and strewn with capers, shallots and streaks of aioli.
As with the Guillardeau, spring at El Gato is a time to welcome back old friends. The onglet steak with patatas a lo pobre (£15) has an almost cult following for what is essentially steak and chips. Once again the onglet, or hanger steak sourced from the lower belly of the beast, punches juicly above its weight, served medium rare, the discs of potato with onions, peppers and ample garlic gloriously comforting.
With it we drink, on our server’s recommendation, a softly spicy Monfil Garnacha 2015 from Cariñena in Aragon (£23 a bottle, also available by the glass); later we will each have a 175ml glass of a smoother, heavier red, Cap de Ruc Criança 2013, Montsant (£7.95) that is a perfect fit for pig cheeks, parsley root, apple puree and morcilla (below, £12.50) with its earthy peasant feel.
Still the new dish that steals the show is of the piscine persuasion – fillet of hake, stunningly flakey and white in a creamy nage of peas, broad beans and asparagus dotted with cubes of jamon (£10.50). Only the Spanish truly appreciate the glorious of the hake, but it takes a chef of Shaw’s pan-European sensibilities to give its such a subtle vernal treatment.
The whole meal, a perfect introduction to spring.
Don't miss EL Gato's new lunchtime menu
FOR those on limited time, a new lunchtime menu ‘Rápido’ features some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, from Catalan bread with olive oil, garlic and fresh tomato, tiger prawns with chilli, garlic and lemon butter and chargrilled sweet potato with mango, chilli and yogurt dressing all served in express time. The ‘Rapido’ menu is available Tuesday-Friday lunchtime.