Sagardi in Shoreditch and Atrio in western Spain

From authentic Basque cuisine in Shoreditch to classic meets modern in Cáceres, there’s no Spain without gain

Sagardi in Shoreditch
Sagardi in Shoreditch

The Gannet has devoured two superb Spanish meals recently. One was a two Michelin-starred dinner at which Scandinavian and Japanese influences seemed almost as prominent as those of Spain; the other was a lunch of authentic cocina vasca – Basque cooking – complete with Basque cider and txakoli, a white wine that tastes rather like cider.

Oddly, the first meal was in Cáceres, an ancient, beautiful town in the west of Spain, and the second in Shoreditch: at Sagardi, an ambitious bar and restaurant seeking to replicate the traditional Basque ciderhouse and grill in east London.

The room – cavernous, dark and industrial – may scream Shoreditch, but the cooking doesn't. There are gelatinous trotters of suckling lamb in Biscayne sauce, made with onions, garlic and dried ñora peppers, a dish so uncompromisingly Basque that the waiter tried to stop me ordering it. There is txuletón too: steak from old dairy cows, splendidly salty, intensely beefy, richly marbled with yellow fat, and smoky from the oak-fired grill. There is also morcilla (black pudding, full-flavoured and sticky with vegetables and rice) and oxtail braised in Rioja Alavesa. Sagardi is a temple devoted to one of the world’s great cuisines, and I hope it prospers.

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At the equally but differently ambitious Atrio, in a modern, super-smart hotel in the middle of Cáceres’ medieval old town, chef Toño Pérez’s refined, intelligent cooking blends classic combinations with contemporary flourishes.

Round, wafer-thin slices of raw turnip – “open ravioli” – were filled with herring, then doused in a cold, sharp, clean-tasting broth of cucumber, green apple and celery. Gloriously silky steak tartare was topped with caviar, a little quenelle of mustard sorbet alongside (umami and wasabi sprang to mind); supremely fresh red mullet – it is a three-hour drive from the ocean, but the fish at Atrio could have been hauled from the quayside – was flashed in a pan and paired with Calvados and hazelnuts; grouper ceviche was lifted by the sourness and fragrance of passionfruit. 

Local specialities also star. Torta del Casar – a soft sheep’s-milk cheese, coagulated with cardoon, not rennet, as in Serra da Estrela on the other side of the border in Portugal – is served with slices of pear and a biscuit made from matcha tea and olive oil. 

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It was a terrific meal from a chef as at home with modern international gastronomy as with the products of his region, and complemented by wines from one of Europe's most impressive cellars. I enjoyed a lovely Galician white – Brandan, made from the Godello grape – although I passed on the 1806 Château d’Yquem: given the sterling exchange rate, €310,000 was a little beyond my budget.

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