Simon Richardson spends a night on the Rodizio, wishing he was somewhere else
It might be unconventional to bookend a restaurant review with mentions of a completely different restaurant, but in the Rodizio game, there’s a gold standard as far as I’m concerned: the mighty Fazenda. It’s an experience so perfect that I’ve taken Brazilians there and they’ve said it was better than anything they’d had back home. This time, though, I’m cheating on my favourite restaurant with its competitor – Estabulo – The St Peter’s Square version, not the one in The Light. I’m allergic to The Light.
Joy that would usually come with such a celebration of meat has been long sucked out
Inside, it’s almost empty, but the calm, relaxed atmosphere has been completely ruined by a Reggaeton playlist – not my favourite kind of music it’s fair to say, and certainly not as an accompaniment to a meal. The server gives his spiel about how it works, asks us how we like the meat (more on that later) and then leaves us to the salad bar. Now, if you’ve been to Fazenda you’ll know that this is a dangerous moment in meals of this type; the array of food is phenomenal, perfectly judged to fill you up so there’s less room for the good stuff. Estabulo, though, hasn’t read that memo. A decent but watery feijoada aside, it’s cold pasta, lumps of cheese and, most bizarrely, boiled eggs. We also get some soggy, lukewarm chips.
There’s little time for regret though; we’ve flipped our cards to green, so I expect the onslaught to begin any minute, as streams of cheerful waiting staff stream from the kitchen, desperate to defeat us. Instead of a stream though, it’s more of a trickle and the cheerfulness is nowhere to be seen either. Any joy that would usually come with such a celebration of meat has been long sucked out and replaced with silence.
The first few cuts of meat are a disappointment. We’ve all asked for it rare, but they’re trying to fob us off with grey, dry rump and sirloin anyway. We ask again… and again. Eventually, we just start declining everything that turns up until the head waiter finally takes the hint, asks us what’s wrong and sorts it out. We wait with bated breath, salivating like the pack of carnivorous wolves that we are, but wallowing like hippos in the despair of this most middle class of problems.
Thankfully, it all changes from here (well, apart from the music) and we start to explore the Estabulo repertoire for real. Gone are the slices of shoe, replaced with delicate strips of tenderloin sliding down my throat, followed swiftly by robust full-flavoured rump. Our frowns have been replaced with smiles, not that the server shares our delight. Time for a glass of wine. Now, if you don’t drink Malbec with steak, you’re some kind of lunatic, so it’s a bottle of Running Duck. This one is fairly medium-bodied, with typical blackberry flavours and a decent aftertaste. It’s a session wine, albeit marked up a fair whack.
Next, we’re led through the flavoured meats – a garlic steak that will consign me to sleeping in the basement for a month and excellent slices of chilli beef, with the spice levels judged to perfection. The star of the beefy show, though, is undoubtedly the picanha– or the cap of rump to you and me. It’s perfection, marrying the melt-in-the-mouth fragility of fillet with the flavour explosion of rump, finished off with a large, gloriously dribbly fat rind that I’d happily embrace a coronary for. There are also chicken hearts – I have to mention these, as they’re pretty much my favourite snack. These are overly chewy though, missing the satisfying texture-flavour combination that I love so much.
I’m really into my stride now, but wait; where’s the meat gone? One of my fellow diners has turned his card over to red, but two of us haven’t. But the staff have done a Houdini and it’s a full twenty minutes before we can get them to come back. When they do, they start clearing away the salad bar and tell us moodily that we can have one more thing. Picanha it is, then. We’re then left another thirty minutes before the bill comes and we can finally escape.
It’s unquestionably true that Estabulo’s meat, when it’s cooked how you’ve asked it, is excellent. And restaurants like this always do well on review sites because they advertise themselves as doing one thing, then they only attract people who are massive fans of that particular thing – lots of meat. You’re not going to catch many vegans in there. But if you’re doing a straight comparison with Fazenda, this is a poor imitation. The quality of the food, the wine list, the service, the salad bar, the atmosphere – every single thing is clearly inferior. And when the difference in price is a fiver, it begs the question: why would you bother?
£26.95 per person
Estabulo, 5 St Peters Place, Leeds, LS9 8AQ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Feijoada 5, chips 4, sirloin 6, rump 7, garlic steak 6, chilli beef 9, filet mignon 9, picanha 10, chicken hearts 6
Slow, inattentive and moody
Atrocious music choices