Rio de Janeiro, the Cidade Maravilhosa, is a place of colour and song, oomph and excitement, relaxation and revelry and – for the next fortnight – Olympic sporting prowess.
Away from watching relay running, observing javelin-throwing and feigning interest in curling, the masses of spectators, politicos and superannuated sporting quango heads gathered in Rio will need to eat. Here are five of the best spots in town.
Located in the bohemian Urca district of the city, Bar Urca has been a mecca for seafood-loving locals for more than half a century. Beautifully situated, Bar Urca has unmatched views across the Baía de Guanabara towards the glittering Cristo Redentor perched on a mountain high above the bay. Move over Tom Jobin and his Garota de Ipanema; this is Rio de Janeiro at its seductive, bewitching best.
Bar Urca is split into two parts, the downstairs being a counter serving caipirinhas, cervejas and snacks directly to street-level, while the upstairs restaurant is a more formal affair, with moustachioed, bow-tie wearing waiters. Both options are show-stoppers.
Arrive early for dinner and order a selection of pasteis de camarão (shrimp pastries) and queijo (cheese). Eat them on the harbour wall, while mingling with the local fishermen closing out the day with an ice-cold Antarctica. When the sun disappears, head to the restaurant upstairs and grab the moqueca camarão a baiana (shrimp stew).
If you are disappointed by Bar Urca then there is truly no hope for you.
R. Cândido Gafree, 205 - Urca, Rio de Janeiro +55 21 2295-8744 www.barurca.com.br
Braseiro da Gávea
While Rio de Janeiro has long attracted a health-conscious, vegetablist class of traveller, the first culinary port of call for most new arrivals remains, reassuringly, a steakhouse. If one is looking to satiate comestible bloodlust with a big, juicy steak then one can do no better than Braseiro da Gávea.
Located a little outside the popular tourist spots of Copacabana and Leblon (but no more than the equivalent of £5 in a taxi), the Braseiro da Gávea is a simple, unspun Rio de Janeiro restaurant that has been churning out mouth-watering steaks, grilled chicken and linguiça (garlicy pork sausages) for decades. A family favourite for many Cariocas, you will find nine week old screaming babies and ninety year old Vovos sitting next to trend-setting yuppies; all drawn here by the quality of the food.
Given its popularity, getting a table can prove a little hard – but don’t let that put you off. Instead, order an ice-cold chope and soak up the atmosphere in the square outside while one of the cabal of corpulent cousins that run the place find you a table. When you do sit down, don’t expect to order your own dish. Instead, confer with your dining companions and order one of Braseiro da Gávea’s vast meat platters. The picanha is a particular highlight.
When you are done with dinner, grab one of the cabs waiting in the rank outside and head for the bars of Leblon. The night is young.
Praça Santos Dumont, 116 - Gávea, Rio de Janeiro +55 21 2239-7494
Filé de Ouro
Amidst the endless crowds and chaos of Rio de Janeiro, it can occasionally be nice to wind down. For a rare moment of calm and a glimpse of the city’s more traditional dining scene then you can do no better than Jardim Botanico’s File de Ouro.
Located not far from the gates of the city’s beautiful Botanical Gardens, File de Ouro is an archetypal Portuguese Brazilian-run establishment with uncluttered decor, crisp white tablecloths and smartly-attired waiting staff.
At File de Ouro, you won’t find wisecracks from a waiter called João or the enchanting smile of a waitress named Adriana. Nor will you find yourself sashaying in your seat to the beat of a bossa nova song piped into the dining room. The charm doesn’t lie with the often brusque and occasionally clinical service or the hospital-style colour scheme but in the sheer, unimpeachable quality of the food.
Aside from the usual range of salads and snacks, File de Ouro’s menu revolves around three key “offers”: the filé (fillet) and contra-filé (sirloin), both served either as a whole or in thick-cut slices and picanha – the Mikado of the Brazilian barbecue. The portions are as large as Brazil itself and come with thick-cut, home-made chips.
This is a place for a lazy lunch. Sit down, enjoy – and emerge feeling hazy after more steak and delicious Chilean wine than you ever thought it possible to consume. If you are able to move afterwards, head across the road to the Botanical Gardens.
R. Jardim Botânico, 731 - Lagoa, Rio de Janeiro +55 21 2259-2396
Tired of surviving on a diet of red meat and black beans, many visitors to Rio de Janeiro wearily go for a pizza in order to break Brazil’s occasional culinary monotony. Few are ever disappointed.
The Italian community in Rio de Janeiro goes back to the mid-1800s and, today, there are more than twenty million Italian-Brazilians. As so often – and joyfully – happened with migrant Italian communities from that period, they took their cookbooks with them and have made a lasting impact on their new country’s culinary identity.
Located in the upmarket Leblon area is Pizzaria Guanabara, an unpretentious, open air eatery with a garish neon sign and the very finest pizza in Rio de Janeiro.
The restaurant really hits its stride in the early hours of the morning as locals either seeking to recover from or prepare for cerveja-fuelled evenings at many of the trend nightclubs located locally. Bag a table, order the linguiça pizza with onions, grab a beer, and enjoy a spot of people-watching along Av. Ataulfo de Paiva as Rio’s elite come out to play.
Pizzaria Guanabara claims to close its doors at five in the morning but, as long as there are customers, the pizza ovens remain on.
Av. Ataulfo de Paiva, 1228 - Leblon, Rio de Janeiro +55 21 2294-0797
Rotisseria Sírio Libanesa
Everyone knows Brazil is a land of immigrants; from the Portuguese pioneers who colonised the land to the legions of African slaves who were forcibly brought to the shores of Bahia during the mid-16th century
What is less well-known is the presence of the country’s seven million-strong Lebanese community, who dominate the upper echelons of Brazilian politics and business. Indeed, at present, the President, Governor of the largest state, and Mayor of the largest city are all Lebanese Brazilians.
Rotisseria Sírio Libanesa is a living, breathing, sizzling monument to the success of the country’s Syrian and Lebanese community. Founded back in the 1930s, the place has been cranking out delicious and unfussy food ever since.
Amidst the chaos of banging pans and cat-calls to passing women on the pavement outside, don’t miss out on the chance to sample its signature esfiha (similar to a Turkish lahmacun) and beef kebabs. It’s chaotic and service can be slow – but grab a beer, relax and remember you’re in Rio de Janeiro.
Away from Rotisseria Sírio Libanesa, if Middle Eastern food is your thing, hop in a cab to the rough and ready Saara market on R. Sr. dos Passos where small units selling delicious kafta, tabbouleh and baba ghanoush have been operating for more than a hundred years.
Galeria do Condor - Largo do Machado, 29 - Loja 32 – Catete +55 21 2146-4915
Daniel Hamilton is a Senior Director at FTI Consulting and a dual British-Brazilian citizen.