When I was growing up in Brazil, going to a rodízio restaurant was one of those Sunday rituals that brought the entire family together. Every Brazilian family will have their favourite rodízio, the one they go to regularly and swear by to be the best one in town.
By far the most popular style of eating in Brazil, rodízio is not confined to steak only, but also pizza, feijoada, sushi, cakes, and any other imaginable food. A fixed-price is paid per person which entitles you to eat as much as you like of your favourite dishes. Prices and quality of ingredients and cooking vary tremendously from place to place but are generally of a good standard and value as competition is fierce.
Rodízio derives from the word “to rotate” and is mostly commonly applied to restaurants serving barbecued meats also known as Churrascarias. In such restaurants, waiters circulate between tables holding skewers with large pieces of barbecued meat which they slice at your table. Green and red cards are given to each diner, and these are used to let the waiters know whether you still want more meat or you have had enough for now.
Good quality rodízio restaurants in Brazil will offer an endless range of different cuts of beef, pork and poultry, and sometimes fish. The buffet of salads and other accompaniments also helps to differentiate one restaurant from another and is seen to indicate the quality of such establishments – the better quality and hence pricier restaurants will offer a more sophisticated buffet. I go to a churrascaria rodízio a couple of minutes walk from my apartment in São Paulo that charges around £6 per person – the quality of meat is excellent and the buffet, although not nearly as lavish as some other more upmarket alternatives, is also pretty good.
Due to Brazil’s size and multicultural influences, the cuisine varies hugely from North (more African/Caribbean) to South (more European/Japanese). Dishes like lasagna and polenta frita are ubiquitous in every family home and Brazilian restaurant menus in the Southern states, while arroz e feijao are a staple food eaten everywhere.
To those unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine, Rodizio Rico’s buffet might seem confused and lacking focus, but this is just a reflection of Brazil’s mixed heritage. Many Brazilians will happily eat Russian Salad, polenta, rice and beans, possibly a pasta dish and some meat at the same meal and without batting an eyelid!
I am pleased to see a number of rodízio restaurants opening recently in London, and so I decided the time had come for a closer inspection. Rodízio Rico opened in the UK about 15 years ago on Westbourne Grove. I used to go there whenever I craved Brazilian home cooking, but I have to admit that I had not returned for a few years until a couple of weeks ago when I visited their Upper Street branch.
A few minutes’ walk from Angel Tube on Upper Street at Islington Green, Rodízio Rico is in a great location at one of the busiest and most popular high streets in London. Their flagship restaurant is rather large and the décor, somewhat at odds with its trendy location, is rustic in style resembling an old fashioned churrascaria similar to the ones in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil’s most southerly state and the native land of the Gaúchos.
Rodizio Rico’s buffet was well laid out and contained some of Brazil’s most popular dishes – a great introduction to those less familiar with the cuisine, and a good opportunity to try many options at once.
Of the many salads on display, I particularly enjoyed the Maionese (Brazilian take on the Russian Salad), and the Salpicão (a salad of shredded chicken with celery, mayonnaise, matchstick chips and other ingredients). Other favourites were the Crème de Milho (sweetcorn cream), Baiao de Dois (North-eastern dish made of rice, beans, cassava flour, dry meat and spring greens) and Vaca Atolada (slow-cooked and meltingly tender rib of beef in a creamy cassava stew).
I was also pleased to see a respectable variety of meats on offer – picanha (Brazil’s favourite cut – top sirloin), chicken thighs wrapped in bacon, sausages, pork fillet, chicken hearts, and a few others. The meats had a delicious charcoal flavour, were very simply seasoned with sea salt only and well barbecued. At £23.50 per person, I felt that Rodizio Rico provides good value for money for the variety and quality they offer.
Rodizio Rico’s drinks menu is however slightly overpriced in my opinion – bottles of beer are priced at £3.95, soft drinks, including Brazilian Guaraná, cost £2.95 while only a handful of options are priced below £20 on their wine list. On our visit, we ordered a bottle of 2006/8 Miolo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon @ £26 – we were brought a 2009 Miolo (not a Reserva) which tasted young, completely fruit-driven and uninspiring.
Cost: The London Foodie was a guest of Rodizio Rico. £23.50 per person or £19 (vegetarians – buffet only).
Likes: good variety of barbecued meats, respectable Brazilian buffet, good value for money. Great location. Friendly staff.
Dislikes: some dishes from the buffet should be served freshly cooked like polenta, more affordable wine choices should be available, £19 for vegetarian menu (buffet only) is expensive. Décor is a let-down.
Verdict: Rodizio Rico offers a truly Brazilian experience in the heart of Islington. Good quality meats, a respectable array of popular Brazilian dishes on its buffet served with friendly Brazilian hospitality. At £23.50, it is also good value for money. Recommended.
Written by Luiz Hara. You can read more of his restaurant reviews and articles on food in London at The London Foodie.
Rodizio Rico – Islington
Tel: 020 7354 1076
There are also Rodizio Rico restaurants at the O2 in Greenwich, Westbourne Grove and Fulham Broadway.