Review of Sagardi London
I’ve been bleating about Basque beef ever since my steak tour of San Sebastian, a city in the Basque area of northern Spain. I was hosting a friend from Scotland who was as curious about eating Basque beef as I was eager to devour it once more. Sagardi, a Basque restaurant in Shoreditch, promised to satisfy our cravings and bring the best of San Sebastian to my doorstep.
First impressions matter. Entering into Sagardi is like entering into a modern temple of meat. Cabinets display shelves of dark purple steaks from Spanish cows, dry aging for up to 6 weeks and becoming more tender and tasty with each passing day. Next to the cabinets is a semi-open kitchen with an immense open grill stacked with flaming charcoal. These guys are not amateurs.
I’d chosen Sagardi because of their Txuleton section. Txuleton is the Basque language word for Rib steak. Txuleton comes from either Vaca (former dairy cows) or Rubio Gallega (Galacian Blond). I was thrilled to see Rubio Gallega on the menu as it’s a breed of cow native to the northern parts of Spain. These cows live long lives frolicking in the mountainous grasslands near the Spanish-Portuguese border. By long lives, I really mean long. Most cows in the UK are butchered at the age of two years while in the US cows satisfying USDA prime grading are about a year old. They are pretty much veal. In contrast, the steak from the Rubio Gallega is from cows between 12 and 15 years old (while the Vaca steak is up to 6 years old). If you want to know more about Rubio Gallega and Basque beef you can read my feature on it here.
Our waiter talked us through the menu, focussing particularly on the steaks. We ordered steak for three, this consisted of a 1.2kg Rubio Gallega Txuleton and a 540gm Vaca steak. We also ordered sides of red piquillo peppers (special peppers from Basque country that are cooked and then hand peeled) as well as potato wedges.
The sides came first, the peppers were flat and quite odd looking, but very tasty and the wedges were generously portioned. The steak arrived and looked stunning. The Rubio gallega steak, with an enormous rib bone adjacent to meat was jaw dropping in its beauty. The steaks had been sliced across their width to reveal pieces of flesh that were on the surface crisp with strong flavours of charcoal and salt, while in the centre the flesh was tender with an intense beefy smack.
The steak was exceptional. The steaks varied both between themselves and within themselves. The leaner strips of beef tasted beefy and the sear from the charcoal grill combined well. The fattier pieces of steak toward the end of the cut were almost overwhelming in taste. I felt a bit emotional, especially after the tragedy at Kyloe a couple of weeks before. Despite being from an old cow the steak was reasonably tender. This is due to the lengthy dry aging of the steak.
I spent some time trying to flesh out the differences between the two steaks. There wasn’t any real competition. The Rubio Gallega was far superior in every way; it was larger, it looked better, it tasted better and was much more tender. However, the Vaca steak was an excellent steak in its own right – it was very tasty (although it had a little chew to it). In fact, the Vaca steak would out do most steaks at other steakhouses. But in the company of what must be the King of steaks, it is a clear second best.
We finished the beef and stared into two bones. The steak was so good, that our Scottish companion (pictured) claimed the rib bone from the Rubio Gallega steak and spent the best part of 15 minutes harvesting every fibre of flesh from it. His highland forefathers would be “well proud”.
If there are flaws to be found from our experience at Sagardi, then there are two. The first is a pretty limited sides menu (I would also love to see Octopus as a starter). The second is the very steep price of the Rubio Gallega steak. At £12 per 100gm, the smallest steak (of about 1kg) is going to cost you at least £120. This is expensive, even for London. But this expensive steak is worth every pound. It is the best meat from Basque country and it may just be the best steak you’ll ever have.