Some restaurant groups grow organically, opening branches that preserve the intimacy and quirkiness of their flagship and by extension the signature of the chef who made it famous. Ottolenghi or the international Momofuku spring to mind.
Sagardi on Curtain Road is not one of those restaurants. It is the first UK outpost of a global chain of which Basque restaurants are only one of many well-oiled components.
When we walk up, a smartly-dressed woman is by the front door, handing out Sagardi cards to passersby, reminiscent of the curry house frontmen on Brick Lane.
She ushers us in, past the long pintxos bar to our right and white-tiled butchery counter to our left, to the 100 plus cover restaurant where we are seated under a huge decorative boat suspended from the ceiling. The waiters all wear wireless headsets, like they are gamers, or in the secret service.
Sagardi makes a big deal of its steak, which is fair, because the steak is very good.
It also makes a point of its produce, flown in daily from Spain, presumably to emphasise the authenticity of its regional cuisine. The paradox of the much-vaunted ‘seasonal menu’ is that if you are not concerned with geography, it is always summer somewhere.
The heirloom tomatoes, which come drizzled in olive oil and a few slices of chilli, certainly taste of sunshine, but personally I would prefer something from Kent.
Our favourite small dish is the morcilla, rich Spanish black pudding served with roasted peppers that provide a sweet punch that cuts through the earthy sausage.
The steamed clams in green sauce come with its sauce thickened with starch, and I find it too heavy. But the tuna tartare is fine. To reiterate, the steak really is excellent: buttery and tender, grilled on a wood fire, sliced up and served rare.
The side of lettuce with spring onions, however, is priced at eight quid. There’s a lot you can do with a simple green salad, but this was just iceberg lettuce topped with spring onions – we could find nothing obvious to justify the hefty price tag.
While the earpieces remind me of the time I went to the Las Vegas Rainforest Café, Sagardi shares none of the former’s ruthless efficiency. Service is friendly but a little confused and drops off as the evening wears on.
I ask our server for a wine recommendation and she tells us a sommelier is on his way. The sommelier never appears but we are at least brought some pleasant, average white wine. Judging by the extensive wine list, and wine cellar that runs the length of the restaurant, this is not all Sagardi has to offer, but it is bustling and hard to get anyone’s attention. We have some non-descript desserts and head home.
I ask my dining companion what he thought of the place. “Very Shoreditch,” he responds. What that means is open to interpretation, but if you are looking for somewhere spacious, impersonal and expensive to dine then Sagardi is the perfect fit.
95 Curtain Road, EC2A 3BS