Raízes (“roots” in Portuguese) is a Brazilian restaurant and petiscos (tapas) bar in London’s East End. Situated at the less trendy end of Hackney Road but a stone’s throw from Viajante in Bethnal Green, this lively Brazilian venue attracts a loyal crowd of ex-pats for its honest, homemade-style Brazilian dishes and well priced caipirinhas.
The place is nearly always packed at the weekends when Brazilian music is played live, and service is invariably friendly if somewhat haphazard at busy times. Dr G and I have eaten at Raízes a number of times, normally opting for a selection of tapas and beer. On this occasion, we were meeting a group of Brazilian and British friends and so we decided to try some of the main courses on the menu in addition to the usual pestiscos.
To get started, we ordered a portion of Torresmo @ £6. This is one of my favourite Brazilian snacks – chunky pieces of pork belly fried slowly until very crisp. It is time consuming and messy to prepare but if well made it tastes delicious. Raízes’ version however was disappointing, as the pieces of pork belly were too finely cut, probably to speed up cooking time, leaving them more akin to fried lardons than Brazilian torresmos.
Deep-fried Mandioca @ £5.30 is another favourite. Cooked as fat chips, Raízes’ was freshly cooked and fried (the frozen variety is dry and not nearly as good), and tasted very good. I make this at home often, and it is also time-consuming to prepare but tastes infinitely more interesting than potato chips.
Despite its name Calabresa @ £5.40 is a type of Brazilian sausage with a strong smokey flavour and firm texture. It is often barbecued or cut into thin slices and fried with plenty of onions as in Raízes’ version. It is also delicious served with toasted cassava flour (a staple in Brazilian cuisine normally eaten as part of a Feijoada meal) and is ubiquitous in the many botecos (bars) of São Paulo and Rio.
We also ordered a portion of Polenta Frita @ £4.50. Polenta is very popular in Brazil, but unlike in Italy where it is normally served soft as an accompaniment to meats, in Brazil we usually eat it hard and deep-fried like potato chips. Polenta chips go so well with other foods or on their own with cold beer and are a cinch to prepare.
To make polenta chips, prepare the polenta according to packet instructions but use less water so that it cooks to a harder consistency. I normally add cheddar and parmesan cheese to jazz it up a bit, and herbs, chillies and other flavourings can also be added. Place the wet mixture in a shallow baking tray, let it cool to a solid block, cut it up, and deep fry it for a few minutes until golden.
Other popular Brazilian petiscos and street food that are featured on the menu but which we were not able try on this occasion included Coxinha @ £2.30 (deep-fried potato pastry filled with shredded chicken), Pão de Queijo @ £3 (portion of 6 cheese bread rolls) and Coração de Galinha @ £5.40 (fried chicken hearts).
Main dishes on Raízes’ menu are the kind of dishes that Brazilians eat every day at home, but are also readily available at bars, cafés or botecos throughout Brazil. I ordered a Contra Filé á Cavalo (220g) @ £10.70 – grilled Brazilian sirloin steak served with rice, beans and fried egg. I enjoyed this dish, with its tender, flavoursome meat. The beans were also well cooked and seasoned, just as I remember having in São Paulo.
The Feijoada @ £9 was also excellent. This is Brazil’s national dish and is a pork and black bean stew served with rice, toasted cassava flour, sautéed greens and orange slices. The beans had been slowly stewed with plenty of cured pork taking on a rich, intense flavour. At £9, this is also an excellent value choice.
Espeto Misto @ £10.80 was a simple but well-executed barbecued skewer of chicken breast, sausage and rump steak served with rice, chips and toasted cassava flour. An improvement to this dish would be to have it served with freshly-made (rather than frozen) chips.
Less successful dishes in my opinion were the Vaca Atolada @ £9.30 – slow-cooked beef ribs cooked with cassava, and served with rice and a potato salad which was slightly bland, and Filé á Parmegiana @ £9.90 – oven baked Brazilian rump steak in breadcrumbs topped with tomato sauce and cheese, served with rice, salad and chips. The steak was thinly cut, rather dry, and was not particularly flavoursome. It was also coated in too thick a layer of breadcrumbs, and topped with an unexciting, bog-standard tomato sauce.
To accompany our petiscos we ordered a few pints of Stella on draught @ £3 per pint as well as some Caipirinhas @ £5.30. The caipirinhas were well made (neither too sharp nor too sweet) but slightly on the weak side. With the main courses, we ordered a bottle of 2009 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon @ £17.60 from Vale dos Vinhedos in Brazil. This is an entry level Miolo wine, and was fruity, easy drinking and uncomplicated.
Cost: £188 for 6 people or just over £30 per head including drinks.
Likes: well priced food and drinks menu, home-cooking style dishes, good selection of petiscos, lively ambiance, good feijoada, fried mandioca/cassava, friendly staff, live Brazilian music at weekends.
Dislikes: main courses were a hit-and-miss affair, quality of some of the meats needs to be considered, presentation of dishes, particularly mains, can be improved.
Verdict: Home-cooking style Brazilian food at good prices, friendly service, and a good East London venue for honest, well made petiscos (Brazilian tapas) and caipirinhas. Recommended.
Written by Luiz Hara. You can read more of his restaurant reviews and articles on food in London at The London Foodie.