Formerly the executive chef at Harvey Nichols, Simon Shaw was inspired to open El Gato Negro in 2005 following a trip to Catalonia and the Basque country. He got his hands on an abandoned pub in the Pennine village of Ripponden and began cooking tapas for the locals. The restaurant’s star rose steadily, picking up awards and accolades, which lead to a visit by Gordon Ramsay’s team from the F Word – winning ‘best local Spanish restaurant in the country’. In 2014, Simon announced plans to make a move to Manchester, where the Black Cat has proved a huge success, winning the city centre’s only Michelin Bib Gourmand. Shaw is to open a second restaurant, Canto, in the city centre this September.
You started ‘doing tapas’ in an old stone brick boozer in the middle of the Pennine hills years before it arrived en masse in Northern cities – did you worry the locals would chase you off with pitchforks?
SS: “Yes, everybody said I was mad opening a tapas restaurant in the middle of a village, I put everything into it too. We were lucky, it really took off and we received a great review in the early stages from a very good Yorkshire food critic, Robert Cockcroft, which certainly helped.”
Things really took off for you after appearing on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, winning ‘best local Spanish restaurant’ in 2009 – do you think you’d be where you are now without that TV appearance?
SS: “Definitely not, no. It was massive for us. We went from serving say 20 to 30 covers on a Tuesday night to being full every single night of the week for about six months after it aired. The website jumped from around 400 hits a day to 11,000. We had to back up what the show said of course and we certainly delivered, but it was huge for us and we wouldn’t be where we are without it.”
Now you’re in central Manchester, you’ve reclaimed your Bib Gourmand, won national plaudits and are selling out of tables. But do you miss the hills, a more simple life, and do you miss doing more cooking?
SS: “I do miss the environment but it’s always good to reinvent yourself and that’s what we had to do when moving into Manchester. I do love cities and I think being in the heart of it is fantastic. I’m still doing the cooking, I’m always in the kitchen. I try to do less but I just can’t because I enjoy it too much. I love the environment and still get a massive buzz from cooking.”
“Its no secret that I’m very ambitious, we do have future plans for El Gato Negro and beyond.”
Tell us more about Canto, the new modern Portuguese restaurant you’re opening later this year…
SS: “Casual, relaxed dining. A typical Portuguese restaurant, serving authentic Portuguese dishes with a modern edge. A place where you can enjoy brunch with the papers, a coffee or lunch with friends, or dinner served with a glass of Portuguese wine. Canto will be a part of the community, a part of Ancoats and Manchester.”
So you’ll soon have two restaurants in Manchester, when do you start eyeing up new spots in cities like Liverpool and Leeds?
SS: “Its no secret that I’m very ambitious, we do have future plans for El Gato Negro and beyond. We always keep an eye out for new opportunities but its too early to say where they’d be, given that I’m a Yorkshire lad, it would be great to find the perfect spot over that way.”
Lastly, where are your favourite places to eat in the North West?
SS: “I’ve always loved The French, Albert Schloss and Manchester House. I think the Pasta Factory is great, I recently tried their new pizza place Noi Quattro which was fantastic. I really enjoy Mackie Mayor too; you’ll regularly spot me in there on a weekend.”