It’s sweltering. I’m dripping, not in a good way. And thanks to the well-meaning directions of a Brixtonian or two, I end up at the wrong end of Coldharbour Lane. This is not good. Anyone who knows the length of Coldharbour Lane will attest to that. It’s so long that I’ve almost ended up in another suburb. Then my Oyster Card runs out and I have to get off the bus going back in the right direction (bus drivers won’t take change anymore), find a newsagent in this foreign land and top it up. There’s another wait for a bus. My third bus tonight. I should have walked.
I’m an hour late in arriving at the hole-in-the-wall Brazilian eatery back in Brixton proper. There’s a big carafe of water on the table – I pretty much down it in one between breathy greetings to my review partners for the evening. We’re here courtesy of Yelp to see what we think of Brazilian food. Forget Brazilian waxes – that’s so five minutes ago. Brazilian FOOD is the flavour of right now in London. Admittedly, I’m not too familiar with the cuisine of this South American country, but I did once briefly date a guy who’d fallen so hard for coastal Bahia that he jacked it all in here and moved there. Permanently.
A modest tumbler of Caipirinha packs more punch than expected, especially in this heat. I’m playing catch-up now as most of the others are already a course down, so I dig in to the Pão de queijo – a dense, cheesy bread ball, which I’m assured by the menu is Brazil’s favourite savoury appetiser. It’s good, moreish, and potentially devastating to my diet. I reluctantly limit my intake to one.
Bahian fish cakes
Then Bahian fish cakes arrive in a threesome, with a smear of sweet chilli sauce beneath. These are a complete surprise, with a taste so strong that my palate goes into temporary shock. Then I realise that there’s possibly an entire dill plant in there with the fish. I like dill, but am not accustomed to quite so much of it in one mouthful. Still, now that I’ve worked out the origins of such intense flavour it’s easier to enjoy the olfactory dance taking place with my taste buds.
Cured Portuguese chorizo on the grill
There’s still a lot to get through. The cured Portuguese chorizo arrives as dark as a black sausage. Biting into it, the texture’s similar, too, but the smokiness of flavour takes the front seat here. This is the best chorizo I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat. It’s so rich that a little goes a long way. It’s meant to be savoured, shared and fought over. The black honey syrup in attendance adds a touch of sticky and sweet, whilst the maize bread is a great vehicle for mopping the plate. Once again, the bread adds an element of surprise. It’s like fat flat bread, if that makes sense, but where the inside is soft and warm, the skin of the bread is fine and crispy, with welcome crunch and crackle.
1/2 chargrilled spicy chicken served with Brazilian churrasco sauce
My neighbours tucked into grilled beef and smoked bacon skewers, called ‘espetinhos’, before moving on to the chargrilled Jacob’s Ladder ribs. Both arrived with healthy helpings of churrasco sauce and sides of cassava chips. I tried a cassava chip – it looked a bit like a roast parsnip, but had a milder taste and starchier texture. Then my spicy chicken arrived. You could taste the grill in the flesh of this bird – more smoke and fire coming through. The marinade had been allowed to properly flavour the chook – with orange, fresh peppercorn and spice, adding heat and citrus to the mix. The result was a tender, flavoursome poultry dish, with a gluten-free onion ring salad toppled across the meat in a marvellous mess.
Time for a top up as the Caipirinha was now long gone. A nearby Yelper literally yelped ‘Rio, Rio,’ at me. ‘Rio?’ ‘Yes, have the Rio Vermelho – it’s diVINE.’ So I followed her advice in the interest of research, not to mention variety. The Rio Vermelho is a cool blend of red wine, fresh orange and lemon juice, sugar syrup and cahaça, that wicked spirit made from sugar cane that is so popular in Brazil. It was, again, quite strong, given its medium-ish sized glass. Where drinks are concerned it’d seem that less means more here. They don’t overload you with the quantity of cocktail at Carioca, but they certainly don’t skimp on quality or strength of content.
Having clocked the cakes under glass domes on the counter, we were all intrigued to finally try them. A wedge of chocolate cake, with slivers of mango; another of berry-filled sponge. Both were excellent, but after a couple of bites I was done. A sweet end to a warm evening with even warmer food.
So you don’t get lost, like I did, when visiting Carioca, stay at the Ritzy end of Coldharbour Lane and enter the covered market at Market Row. Turn right and Carioca is at numbers 25-27.
Carioca, Market Row, 25-27 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LB
Tel 020 7095 9052
See what they’re up to on Twitter- @Cariocabrixton
*I dined courtesy of Yelp and Carioca. The opinions given here are my own.*