It’s an odd proposition – a Brazilian restaurant, tucked inside an ugly modern block, that doubles as a youth hostel’s canteen, where you pay for your food by weight (the food’s, not yours) – and yet somehow it works.
The neighbourhood is pleasant, but the exterior of the building that houses this restaurant could hardly be less inviting. It’s a ‘60s or ‘70s office-like block overlooking – or teetering on the brink of – a busy, hard-to-cross road. A line of international flags indicates that it operates as a travellers’ hostel – poor travellers – while to one side a bright yellow sign is imprinted with BARBECUE in bright red lettering. As it turns out, barbecue – or rodízio, to use the Brazilian term – is sometimes on offer here at weekends, but it’s not a sure thing by any means so you need to call ahead.
Step inside and the interior is far more pleasant: a simple wood-panelled oblong space that leads by its far door into the hostel. Thanks to all that wood, there’s actually a sauna-like look to the place, with just a few basic adornments on the walls: a carved Christian slogan ('With God everything is possible') and a few framed, cheap-looking images. In one corner of the room sits a long bain-marie, at the end of which is a set of electronic scales. A small television plays Brazilian shows.
Watching that TV there might well be a lone diner, and they might well be Brazilian. The pay-by-weight arrangement might have something a little exotic about it to the British visitor, but for Brazilians it’s a workaday kind of set-up. This is a Brazilian canteen: eating to fuel up. They make no attempt to inflate the place’s popularity by playing up its relative exoticism. Given the concrete block in which they’re housed, it would be a hard task in any case. Staff are steadfastly casual, sometimes disappearing for minutes on end, coming back when they sense you need something. There’s a good amount of chatter between them and the customers, suggesting that this place is some sort of hub for the area’s Brazilian community. That all adds to the pleasure of visiting – you feel you’re getting a glimpse into some lesser known aspect of the city – but don’t expect a whole lot of English to be spoken.
There’s a feeling that this place serves a community purpose – the aforementioned hub role – and its performance as a restaurant is, perhaps as a consequence of this, not consistent. What can be said with confidence is that Sabor Brasileiro always operates a comida por kilo system, whereby you take a plate, fill it with what you fancy from the buffet, then take it to be weighed and pay accordingly. But the choice is not always as wide-ranging as you might want it to be – sometimes there are a dozen options, sometimes half that. But it's all classic Brazilian canteen fare, and usually all good, even if the intensely lit bain-marie does their appearance no favours. Expect dishes like beef stew (slabs of cheap steak slow cooked with carrots in a gravy), battered fish goujons, fried chicken thighs and drumsticks, and even a chicken lasagne (all shredded meat and cheese sauce). To bulk it up, there are the usual Brazilian standards of beans and white rice, both expertly prepared. The payment system is strangely fun. Go for the takeaway aluminium container for £6, the all-you-can-eat buffet for £10, or the pay-by-weight 'comida por kilo' at £1.30/100g. Whichever way you choose, it's cheap.
There’s a range of the usual canned suspects in the fridge, or try one of the fresh fruit juices, which include familiar options as well as Brazilian flavours like cupuaçu and açaí.
The Last Word
If you’re after a culinary experience, don’t come. But if you’re interested in the overall dining experience then it’s definitely worth a visit.