AS a result of Fazenda’s success in bringing Rodizio dining and gaúcho-style grilling to the UK, the Brazilian restaurant group last week launched a new concept, Picanha in Chester.
The venue still has the sleek look associated with the much loved top-end Brazilian restaurants, but dining at Picanha is a little more relaxed and accessible.
Picanha has been named after the most favoured cut of meat, well known for its succulent texture and exceptional flavour. If you’ve never experienced this style of churrasco or barbecue eating before, it’s a real treat. Continuous table service enables the waiters to bring a rolling programme of freshly cooked meats to each table on skewers where they carve each one in front of guests until they’re full to bursting.
To avoid unnecessary interruption, there’s a system in place via clever use of coasters. One side says "Sim, Por Favor", which loosely translates as "yes please, fill my boots", and the other side says "Nao, Obrigado" which signals "you’re alright there, I’m having a bit of a break".
After a warm welcome, each guest is served pão de queijo, a dough ball enriched with egg yolk and cheese; a Brazilian staple enjoyed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then it’s time to let loose on the salad bar – which you are advised to do with caution in the face of what’s to come.
"Salad bar" is possibly too narrow a description for Picanha’s selection of appetisers and cold dishes. Here you’ll find dishes of greens and apple with ginger and lemon olive oil, roast vegetables with goats’ cheese and mango and crayfish salad, as well as platters of smoked salmon, giant wheels of Grana Padano cheese, salamis, salpicao coleslaw, curried cauliflower with pomegranate seeds and charred sweetcorn. You’re also free to create your own bespoke salad from a range of simpler items such as mixed leaves and cherry tomatoes. On top of that there are sauces, condiments and garnishes like farofa, a toasted cassava flour mixture to add a little crunch, picantonas (tiny spicy and sweet peppers) guacamole and hoummus.
Once you’re settled with your plate of salad (and preferably a bottle from their fantastic selection of South American wines) it’s time for the procession of meats to begin as the passadores do their rounds – just remember to pace yourselves.
At lunchtime guests are offered seven different cuts and types of meat:
Picanha, or cap of rump, is the signature dish of the house. Its characteristic later of fat allows it to self-baste, keeping the beef juicy, full of flavour and very tender.
Tri-tip, or bottom sirloin, is a beautifully marbled, with super flavour and texture.
Cordeiro, or grilled lamb, has been basted with a special fresh mint marinade.
Linguiça gaúcha are sausages similar to a full flavoured sweet and spicy chorizo. Here’s a tip, nip back to the salad bar to where the hot dishes are and get a spoonful of feijoada. This is Brazil’s national dish based made with slow cooked beans and pork and it works perfectly with the sausages.
Sobrecoxa de frango are chicken thighs grilled to perfection on the rodizio and kept moist and juicy with a special house marinade.
Barriga de porco is the popular pork belly which is served sliced with a sweetly sour and warming honey, lemon and cinnamon sauce.
Bife de presunto and abacaxi, or the classic smoked gammon and pineapple has been slowly grilled preserve its unique juiciness. Our passadore confessed that one customer asked him what the yellow meat was...
In the evening, all of the above meats are available, but with four more additions;
Contra-filé or beef sirloin is a deliciously tender cut of meat, with a well-balanced flavour thanks to its outside layer of fat.
Alcatra or rump has a distinctive meaty taste, also served with garlic at our guests can request this with garlic, but perhaps not if they’re not on a first date. I circled this one in my notebook, as it turned out to be my favourite.
Bife ancho is a marbled, tender and juicy rib-eye.
To keep regulars engaged, they also offer "Butcher’s Choice" - guest cuts of meat carefully selected by their butcher, which vary due to season and availability.
We were interested to discover how versatile Picanha is, despite the simplicity of their format. Gluten free bread is available on request, as are a wide selection of rodizio-grilled halal meats (the passadores make sure they serve the correct meats thanks to a clever colour coded plate system.)
Vegetarians are also well catered for. After enjoying the salad bar, non-meat eaters can order from a delicious range of dishes ranging from the vegan moqueca coconut stew with rice, or courgette and lemon gnocchi, to the vegetarian funghi gnocchi, or pumpkin and blue cheese risotto. Fish eaters can order bacalhau and garlic gnocchi or even a tuna steak.
The Brazilians are renowned for their love of sweet things and have created an ingenious number of ways to indulge in dulce de leche (the toffee in banoffee.) Even if you only have room for one teensie weensie bit, don’t leave before sampling the triple-layered marquise de chocolate. Picanha’s signature dessert comprises a rich chocolate brownie base topped with a thick layer of Argentinian toffee and whipped cream.
You might also be tempted by the miniature selection of Brazilian sweet treats, our favourites were brigadeiro, a toffee chocolate truffle and quindim de coco, a traditional and achingly sweet mouthful of desiccated coconut and egg yolk.