On reflection, venturing across the Pennines on the same day that United play Leeds was, perhaps, an ill-advised weekend to pick for a cosmopolitan mooch around Manchester. The city, judging by the social media we scrolled through on the journey over, looked lively.
Mindful that a spot of footbal hooliganism could ruin the cultivated city break vibe, we aimed for lunchtime solace at El Gato Negro, although not before a solid twenty minutes in the nearby gallery being quiet and nodding sagely at Art.
It’s a full house at EGN, so no dice. (They could, we’re told, fit us in at 3pm, but as urbane and debonair as I undoubtedly am, nobody can get away with eating lunch at 3pm outside of Spain.) Reprieve comes rapidly when we stumble upon Tast, purveyors of tapas Barcelona-style, just a few doors down, where seats – high stools at high tables, of course – are fortunately available. Yes, I should’ve booked somewhere.
Opening moves are positive. One long, singular slab of well-crusted bread retains its bite despite a generous drenching of peppery oil and sweet tomato pulp. Croquetas, hot from the fryer and filled with a rich and hammy bechamel, tick and then double tick the crunchy and oozy box. As good as these little spheres are, however, they are diminutive down-in-one jobs – think a buffet scotch egg – and at just under eight quid for four the price irks a little.
Patatas bravas, an ever-present on menus that all too often fails to deliver on its flirty promise of crisp spud and fiery sauce – play their part reasonably well in the hot snack/cold beer stakes but the sauce lacks heat. There are plenty of them but, unlike the baying mobs we occasionally hear in the near distance, these are placid and polite.
Similarly, a quintet of slender anchovy fillets are underpowered, although the bread dredges nicely through the glassy, verdant oil that they’re paddling in.
Redemption arrives in the unlikely form of humble tortilla, a flaxen puck cooked optimally so as to emit its silky interior once the bronzed outer is skewered with a knife. Its classic filling of sliced potatoes and slow-cooked onion add heft.
Though I can safely say that one of the cheeses is manchego, I have no idea what the others are beyond ‘bluey’ or ‘goatsy’, as a plate of too-cold queso is dropped off without any counsel as to what’s what. And there’s a bit of niggly up-selling going on, too. A waiter notices my empty beer glass and asks if I want another half, or if I want to make it a pint. I crumble under the pressure and make it a large one. I’m only human.
As long as you’re into industrial decor Tast, with its long narrow bar and bifold doors opening up onto Costa del King Street, is an appealing space (things are a bit swankier upstairs, apparently). But all this is eaten to a slightly odd soundtrack including Van Halen, Madonna, and Georgie Boy Michael. Having yet to visit Barcelona I couldn’t say decisively whether this or isn’t a fair representation of the musical accompaniment one may enjoy while taking lunch in the Catalan capital, but I have my doubts.
None of this is bad food, far from it, and there’s enough decent-to-good stuff going on to ensure that Tast remains an option the next time we’re in town and need to swerve some cross-Shire bother. But when, with drinks, the bill tops out at 80 quid for a quick bite, small quibbles feel more pronounced.
It probably doesn’t help, either, that about a month ago we had a similar impromptu tapas lunch at Brindisa in Borough Market, a joy from start to finish with no wrong moves. Must get those images up on here, actually.