Simon Shaw on Portuguese cuisine

31 July 2018

Simon Shaw at Canto

Ahead of opening his second restaurant in Manchester, creative director and chef patron Simon Shaw shares more about his love of Iberia’s lesser-known cuisine. Although best known for his own take on Spanish dishes, he’s long harboured a love of Spain’s western neighbour, Portugal.

Like Spain, the diversity and quality of food and drink is astounding. Unlike Spain, the Portuguese food scene in the UK is in relative infancy and it’s less well known. But palates are changing thanks to travel and diner’s hunger to experience new cuisines. Indeed it was travel which first opened Simon’s eyes to Portuguese food.

It would be easy for me to open another Spanish restaurant but I wanted a fresh challenge and to take people on a journey. It’s always been on my radar to open a modern Portuguese restaurant.

I first visited Lisbon about 20 years ago and thought it a really cool place, raw but great. Seven years later I returned and there was a real movement taking place, a city with edge. When I returned in March it was like, wow, this is now a serious European city for food and drink.

Simon’s a fan of the food on offer in modern Portugal; whether it’s gloriously fresh seafood, hearty urban street food, or simple updates on rural classics. Some of the most exciting places to eat in Lisbon right now are restaurants like Prado or Cantinho do Avillez: contemporary takes on traditional dishes, celebrations of local, seasonal produce, all brought to life by talented chefs with techniques and styles from around the world.

This fits well with Simon Shaw’s own style, which has shaped El Gato Negro’s focus since it opened. Creating a menu of seasonally-influenced dishes inspired by Spanish and local British ingredients alike. Mixing traditional and modern techniques, and serving these as tapas, making it easier to discover and be delighted by favourites and new dishes. No wonder El Gato Negro has proved so popular with customers and critics alike.

When people think of tapas, they think of Spain. They’re right of course: the name comes from the Spanish verb tapar, which means to cover. Small plates, another term widely used to describe tapas, are a feature of so many other cuisines, including Mexican, Argentinian, Korean, Italian and Portuguese.

Those Portuguese small plates – known as petiscos – are a great way of sampling and sharing a broad range of dishes in a meal. That’s another reason why El Gato Negro has proven so popular, and why the tapas style is ideal to introduce a cuisine which is largely new to Manchester.

I’ve always loved this style of dining. You just can’t get that combination of ingredients and flavours from a typical à la carte menu.

We feel Manchester’s ready for amazing Portuguese cuisine and with Carlos Gomes at the head of the kitchen, they’re going to get it; he’s one of the most talented chefs I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Get ready to sample some of Simon and Carlos’ favourite dishes soon: Canto is opening in Ancoats this September.