Most of the time I'm in blissful ignorance of what other restaurant reviewers are doing. I suppose it's laziness really; I don't read as much these days as I should. In a perfect world we reviewers should talk to one another, so that we don't all end up reviewing the same place on the same day. Thankfully that doesn't happen too often - there are now so many restaurants in Ireland that the odds of it happening are getting longer by the week.
There are times however when what other reviewers have written come to my attention. A case in point was a review by the Sunday Independent's Lucinda O'Sullivan a few weeks back. It was a funny and well-written piece about her adventures in a Brazilian restaurant. It brought back memories to me of an experience I'd had many years ago in an Italian restaurant in Clontarf. A couple of weeks later I read a review by my TV reviewer companion Tom Doorley of the same Brazilian restaurant. Tom had really enjoyed his night there and there had been no drama as there had been for Lucinda. It was interesting to read to differing accounts of the same restaurant.
As it happens, my South American friend Isabella Weibrecht and I had been planning a trip to this same Brazilian restaurant, which is called Brasil Churrascaria. For one reason or another our dinner kept getting postponed and in the meantime Lucinda's and Tom's reviews had come out, so by the time we finally got to go there, I had some idea of what I could expect. My friend Isabella spent many of her formative years in Brazil, specifically in Sao Paolo, so she was the perfect companion to explain the niceties of Brazilian dining to me. She also speaks Portuguese, so we were able to communicate well with the staff of Brasil, all of whom seem to be either Portuguese or Brazilian.
The dining room is small and unpretentious, very simply decorated and it seats maybe thirty. The kitchen takes up the room alongside and there's a couple of tables in there too by the window. First impressions then are of a simple eaterie, the sort of place that Italians call a trattoria', the kind of place where the food is the main interest, not the surroundings. Before we did anything like look at menu or wine list, Isabella ordered both of us a caiperinha, that quintessentially Brazilian drink of rum and lime juice with lots of crushed ice. The word refreshing' doesn't really do caiperinhas justice, it would be all too easy to drink them one after another. Since I was driving and Isabella doesn't really drink, that's where the caiperinhas stopped.
A churrascaria' is the basic Brazilian dining experience. You get a lot of salads and hors d'oeuvres, but the main event, the centre piece, is meat. Lots of meat. Meat in quantities that would make a vegetarian blanch. Carnivore quantities, not delicate little slices. Hunks of meat - pork, lamb and beef laden onto plates as though to feed a New Testament multitude. I did of course look down the menu, which is priced at the lower end of average, even though Id already made up my mind. Most of the main courses are priced from 16.50 to 23, although a large T-bone steak will cost you 28.50. Mostly the menu lists steaks, stews and fish dishes. Some of the Brazilian classics looked tempting, but as I said, when you're in a churrascaria, meat is what they do best, so that's what we both ordered.
It's a 30 deal: you help yourselves to the buffet of salads and then you get your own industrial quantities of meat for your main course. I'm not a man of small appetite, so I was sure I could handle whatever came my way, but Isabella is svelte and slight and I did wonder if she could cope with the portions. Being a smart lady she didn't do what I did, which was eat far too much from the buffet.
There was a reason for that. The buffet is L' shaped, but at first I only noticed the long side. I'd already filled my plate with black beans, a green salad, some grilled aubergine slices and some potato salad, when I noticed the other part of the buffet. Since that contained a lot of things that I like, like a squid and octopus salad, cold meats and smoked salmon there was nothing for it but to go back and try those things as well. Not smart, really, because when our grilled meat platters arrived there was enough to feed eight, I swear.
I did try, I really did. I ate two cuts of grilled beef, a large pork sausage, and then some lamb before I surrendered and stopped. The meat platter didn't look any emptier than when it had come to the table. With the meal cleared away we sat over one last caiperinha for Isabella and a couple of espressos for me. Maybe it was the sound of Portuguese being spoken so close to the kitchen door, but the chef / proprietor came out and spoke to us. It was a tri-lingual conversation: Portuguese to Isabella, good Italian to me and the odd word of English. I didn't mention the war (the one with Lucinda) and discovered that before moving to Dublin he'd owned a large and posh churrascaria in Manhattan. I even got to see the photos. It seems that nine-eleven was a disaster in more ways than one; many restaurants got hit in the subsequent fall-out, including his.
Because of that we now have another style of ethnic dining in Dublin and one that should appeal to meat-eating Dubliners. It's simple and good and not expensive. Our bill for more than we could eat came to 87, including the caiperinhas, mineral water and coffees. If Brazil gets into the final of the world cup, this might just be the place to celebrate.