WHEN Simon Shaw introduced tapas to a Calderdale pub, there were raised eyebrows. Inspired by trips to the Basque Country and Catalonia, Simon was keen to share his take on traditional Spanish dishes - but was Ripponden ready for tapas?

“I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘Tapas? Have you thought this through?’,” says Simon. “But we got a great review from Jay Raynor, then Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word came along and we went stratospheric.”

The Channel 4 show declared Simon’s venue the country’s best local Spanish restaurant. Diners flocked there, with one critic calling it ‘the best tapas in the North’. “We got people from all over the country - a minimum of 70 diners on a Tuesday. Crazy,” says Simon.

In 2016 he opened a restaurant in Manchester - and the El Gato Negro tapas concept took off. It won a stack of awards and last year the Michelin Guide awarded it a coveted Bib Gourmand for the third year. Now Simon is Chef Patron and Creative Director of restaurants in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, under the El Gato Negro (Black Cat) name. The Leeds restaurant opened last autumn, in the striking Victorian bank building that used to house Jamie’s Italian. “It was never a question of whether I’d come back to Yorkshire - just when,” says Simon. “This property is well located, near the railway station, in the middle of the business hub. Channel 4 is moving down the road, it’s an exciting time.”

One of the North’s most respected restaurateurs, Simon was the first Head Chef at Harvey Nichols restaurant in Leeds. Travelling in Spain, he fell in love with “the diversity and excitement of modern Spanish cuisine”.

“At Harvey Nichols we did a ‘Taste of Spain’ menu, I started travelling to Spain and went to old-school restaurants, and new wave ones. My turning point was Comerc 24 in Barcelona; it was modern tapas, and showed me what could be done. Everyone does taster menus now, these guys were doing it 25 years ago.”

Simon enjoys the social element of tapas - the fun adventure of sharing dishes: “It’s a great way to encourage people to try something new. I remember in 2005 trying to get people to eat octopus, it was practically impossible. Now it’s one of the biggest things on our menu.”

El Gato Negro Leeds blends Spanish tradition - you could be dining in a town square in Barcelona or Madrid - with a lively, modern vibe. With a beautiful tiled floor, long arched windows and original grand ceiling, it’s an elegant venue to relax with friends over a leisurely lunch, or dine out in style after dark.

It was bustling when we arrived for lunch. As our friendly waitress explained, dishes are cooked when the order arrives and served when ready, rather than all at once. This worked well; allowing us to enjoy a couple of dishes at a time and savour the flavours. We started with Catalan bread, drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic and fresh tomato, as good as any I’ve had in Barcelona, and plump olives, deliciously marinated with chilli. Then came the six tapas choices, starting with tiger prawns, tasty with chilli and lemon butter, and, my favourite, cauliflower cheese croquetas; melt-in-the-mouth creamy. Next came delicious salt cod croquetas, in piquillo pepper purée; patatas bravas, a tapas staple with spiced tomato fritarda sauce; traditional tortilla with aioli and mini Catalan chorizo with Aspall cider.

Tapas is surprisingly filling, but we found room for chocolate tart with orange Chantilly cream and Tarta de Santiago with salted caramel ice cream.

* A delightful corner of Spain on a Yorkshire city street. Buen provecho!