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.
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.
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.