Review of Alorrenea
Visiting a Sidreria is an essential steak experience in Basque country.
What is a Sidreria?
Feeling like I knew a thing or two about Basque culture (after my previous visits to San Sebastian), I tried to impress a friend with my knowledge of the area. “But have you been to a Sidrería”, my Basque friend asked. I shook my head and my friend looked surprised, “You love steak and Basque country, but you’ve never been to a Sidrería? I had to fix this.
A Sidreria (or Sagordotegi in the Basque Language) is a hybrid steak house and cider house. The cider is produced on site and stored in enormous barrels. These cider houses usually have large halls where they serve large portions of steak and where you can help yourself to cider directly from the enormous barrels.
The Basque country, along with the rest of Northern Spain is famous for its exceptional beef which is typically far more mature than the beef you get anywhere else (see our article on old cow steak). The steak served in Sidreria’s is often called Basque beef or cider house steak and comes from former dairy cows that are about 8 years old. The maturity of the cow, along with dry ageing, gives the meat an excellent beefiness.
My Basque friend booked a Sidrería, about 30 minutes outside of San Sebastian, called Alorrenea for me to visit. I arrived at opening time on Saturday afternoon.
I made my way into a large hall and immediately noticed a large grill with tons of steak waiting to be grilled. Why was I not born Basque? The steak and food culture here is just immense and the hills and valleys of Basque country are dotted with places like this.
I sat down and was given a menu in Spanish and Basque but thanks to my rudimentary Spanish the order was taken in English. I ordered the Txuleta/Chuleta which is a bone-in rib steak, which came in at an incredibly reasonable 36 euro per kg, with Tomatoes and Jamon. If you’ve got a large appetite it’s also worth checking out the traditional Cod Tortilla (Bacalao Frito) as well
To drink you can pay 6 euros to have an unlimited amount of cider from any of the barrels – you go up to them, position your glass strategically and then pull the lever and watch as a stream of cider hopefully hits your glass.
I had the first steak of the day. It was a large Rib-steak weighing just under 1kg. The steak was not served sliced (which they usually do in restaurants), but given the generous portion size and how informal or casual the place is, it wasn’t something to get fussed about.
The steak had an impressive charred crust. I grabbed a simple knife and carved along the bone. The steak cut pretty easy. I carved up the steak and then started to eat it. Being from more mature cows, the steak carried a chew and was not melt in the mouth tender but it tasted like real beef. The crust was perfectly formed and deliciously salted. Each chew of the steak was tasty and it continued to deliver taste with every chew. The steak wasn’t overpoweringly beefy, like the beef I had in Casa Urola in San Sebastian, but still very good.
The tomatoes were served sliced, heavily salted and drenched in olive oil. They were also delicious. The Jamon simply melted in the mouth while the cider was a unique part of the experience. The cider is distinct from what you’ll find in other countries (like the UK). It does not sparkle and it is not overpoweringly sweet or dry. It’s got more of a sour taste and works quite well with the steak. There were five operating barrels in our part of the hall and while they were all different, the difference was colour and often how sour the cider was.
No missed steak
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A visit to a Sidreria should be part of anyone’s itinerary. It’s a traditional and unique Basque experience and my visit to Alorrenea, where I got just under 1kg of steak along with sides and unlimited cider (which was enough for 2 people), came in at under 60 euros. Eat your heart out London.