Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Eat like a Brazilian – by the kilo

Imagine going out for dinner at a restaurant and paying for your meal by the kilo. Sounds strange? Not in Brazil. “Por kilo” restaurants are everywhere. They’re popular, offer good value for money and the food – at least at the various por kilo restaurants I’ve visited – is excellent.

I must admit, I was dubious at first. The restaurants are laid out like buffets, where diners help themselves to as much or as little as they like. Depending on the size of the restaurant, the choice can be vast, with dedicated fish, meat and salad counters. Once you’ve filled up your plate, you get it weighed, pay for it, then sit down to eat.
I normally hate buffets – they’re overpriced (and force you to eat more than you actually want so you feel as if you’ve got the most out of you money) and I don’t trust the freshness of the food. But at the different por kilo restaurants I’ve eaten at in Brazil, it’s always been the opposite. Even at a tiny restaurant on Oscar Freire, an upmarket street in São Paulo, two hot lunches of rice and beans (one was feijoada, so contained chunky bits of meat), vegetables (including the delicious cassava, which is like potato but crispier on the outside and flakier on the inside – try it if you can) and salad, followed by banana mousse, came to less than £10.
It was this por kilo concept that I was hoping to find at Comida (which means “food”), a restaurant on South Molton Street in central London. I don’t why; it wasn’t advertised as such. Maybe it was just nostalgia. But Comida is not a por kilo restaurant. It does have a small buffet, which, depending on the choice you make from the menu, can be topped up as many times as you’d like. But starting from £22.50 for a vegetarian option, it was too expensive, even for London.

Still, I opted for the buffet to try to satisfy some of that nostalgia. The rice and beans were very good – perfectly seasoned and tasted like the real thing. But the salad was bland and there was no cassava, either. The grilled courgettes were good, but other than the rice and beans, the ingredients felt too “English”. Therein lies the problem, perhaps. To get fresh ingredients, they need to be seasonal and locally sourced. Having said that, Portobello Market in Notting Hill is known to sell cassava.
Where Comida excels is in its meat offering. Not since a trip to the Dos Talas estancia (a sort of working farm that welcomes guests) in Argentina have I seen so much meat. At the table next to us, different types and different cuts of meat kept arriving in huge portions, quicker than I could get through a quarter of my first buffet serving. It looked very impressive and the chef was Brazilian, so knew what he was doing. He was particularly proud of the picanha – a cut of beef in Brazil that is generally considered to be the best part of the cow.
I also found out that if you call ahead, Comida will prepare fish dishes, which aren’t on the menu.
It may not be a traditional por kilo restaurant, but the service is very “Brazilian” (so friendly that I was even invited to inspect the grill) and the meat options diverse.

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