It could be said that both Brixton and Brazil have suffered in the past, with a bit of an image problem. Both had an edgy sort of cool but also a sinister past making them a little frightening to the uninitiated. Brazilian restaurant Carioca on Market Row in Brixton couldn’t be further from this perception – it is a tiny, warm, generous hug of a restaurant serving some genuinely lovely, affordable food.
Run by brothers Maurilio and Antonio Goncalves, Carioca was, until recently, called Prima Donna which was probably somewhat confusing, sounding, as it does, like the phallic-pepper-grinder-sort-of-Italian restaurant my mother adores on account of the flirty waiters.
They’ve now re-branded themselves as Carioca and I was lucky enough to be invited to their recent launch event – catered by the remarkably calm chef Lucy, who fed an excitable crowd of hungry press and bloggers lavishly, while continuing to run a very busy dinner service for ‘normal’ customers at the same time.
For me, the word that overwhelmingly describes the evening is ‘generous’. The brothers circulated with huge pitchers of limey caipirinha and brought out vast sharing bowls overflowing with cheesy pao de queijo (a sort-of-cheese-bun on steroids), there were heaps of sticky blackened Brazilian chorizo liberally drizzled in honey syrup, piles of coxinhas de frango (‘little drumsticks’) filled with chicken and herbs, like super-sized Spanish croquettas, and chunky little Bahaia fishcakes with a spicy sauce. And these were just the starters…
We moved onto my favourite dish of the evening: arepas – a grainy maize bread filled with a fiery mixture of pulled beef, peppers and onions which made me immediately question why on earth we so rarely slow-cook beef in the UK? As if to confirm this travesty, a veritable mountain of Flintstones-style beef ribs arrived – having been slow-cooked until meltingly flaky and then blackened over a charcoal grill and finished with smoked applewood salt and a piquant molho de churrasco sauce. The Brazilian national dish of feijoada appeared next – a ludicrously hearty stew of black beans, chorizo, pork and beef served with rice and a toasted flour called farofa. The dish is served with a wedge of juicy orange to eat afterwards, in order to aid digestion of this peculiarly wintery stew in the tropical Brazilian climate. Stacks of beef and bacon skewers were piled onto the groaning table with the most addictive, crispy cassava chips. Even the vegetarian sitting next to me (for whom I was initially worried, given the gargantuan quantities of beef on offer) was fit to burst, as she had been plied with beetroot, butterbean and blue cheese salad and a substantial tortilla dish.
I was beaten by the kilos of meat I’d consumed, but I saw some remarkable cakes made by the very-smiley Maurillio. The strawberry cheesecake was topped with a pool of white chocolate and there was a handsome looking carrot cake, but the killer blow that nearly had me hiding food in my handbag was an outrageous chocolate and banana cake topped with a slick of salted caramel.
If you find yourself in the latterday rather-welcoming Brixton and you’re hungry – and I mean REALLY hungry – you should try Carioca. You can BYOB if you feel like it, they also do a great prix fixe menu for £12.95 Tues –Thurs, and 20% off your food bill if you dine at the restaurant from 6pm – 7:30pm on a Friday night.