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Restaurant review: Bem Brasil

There are no limits in a meat paradise. Neil McQuillian has his (beef) cake and eats it

Published on January 17th 2011.


Restaurant review: Bem Brasil

WHEN Ebeneezer Scrooge came home one evening to a confrontation with the ghost of his dead business partner, he blamed the vision on indigestion: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato,” he told it. “There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

But what to make of the enormous wall mural of what appear to be favela slums, which somehow looks wholesome enough to adorn a kid’s bedroom? A little inappropriate? Still, you can play a kind of Where’s Wally, trying to spot the drug barons.

Whether he was tempted to pass off the full-blown, hallucinogenic, existential meltdown that ensued as the grumblings of a bothersome gut, Dickens doesn’t tell us, but if any restaurant out there is capable of inducing psychedelic dyspepsia then it would surely be the meat assault course offered by Bem Brasil.

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“We don’t believe in limits” the restaurant’s website tells us, invoking the spirit of antelope-swallowing pythons. “Why choose which meat you want when you can try them all!!”.

Post-Christmas, that’s just what you need: another feast. That pencilled-in January “detox” was going to need upping to tsunami-strength colonic irrigation. Our wellbeing aside, isn’t the requirement to choose one of the bittersweet pleasures of dining out? But then, perhaps past experiences of all-you-can-eat buffets, those ranked stainless steel buckets of quantity-over-quality Chinese or Indian food (or both, in the case of Masala Wok), had skewed our thinking.

For Bem Brasil is not about dining as stuffing (although that is doubtless possible), it is a churrascaria de rodizio – a traditional Brazilian ‘rotating barbecue’ – where meat carvers pass amongst the tables bearing various kinds of spit-impaled morsels. This is all-you-can-eat with a certain class – we’re talking meat harem here. This style of service is known in Brazil as espeto corrido – inelegantly translatable as “quick spit”, though a quick barf might be more in order if you want to ram all 12 of the promised cuts of meat into your belly. Nonetheless, this promised to be fill-your-boots with – dare I say it – a touch of samba flair and we were more than happy to risk bellyache for it.

The operation occupies two stories of an elegant old building on Hanover Street, near the mouth of L1. The first floor features a hotel-like reception dominated by a backlit water feature, and a large bar area decked out in full-on theme park Brazil cheeriness.

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A big mounted telly intersperses footage of Carnaval queens and their huge grinning teeth with glistening slabs of barbecued meat. There’s table football and a stage. The only thing missing is a little beach.

But what to make of the enormous wall mural of what appear to be favela slums, which somehow looks wholesome enough to adorn a kid’s bedroom? A little inappropriate? Still, you can play a kind of Where’s Wally, trying to spot the drug barons.

The barmen, we noted, were wearing Brazilian football T-shirts bearing Pele’s famous number 10. Two of Brazil’s more recent number 10s – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho – have shown a tendency to pile on the pounds and, as we moved upstairs, we wondered if we were about to find out why.

The restaurant area is spacious, perhaps to give diners room to grow into. It’s primarily white walled throughout, with a bit of bare brick behind the bar the only indication of the building’s elderliness.. Semi-circular black leather banquettes line the windows that look out onto Hanover Street contrasting with the rustic wooden chairs and tables, and woven table mats. We eyed the fifty spinning rotisserie slots as the maitre d’ sat us down and proceeded to explain what he called “the concept”. Gorge ourselves, no? Fill our faces, pig out, chow down. We knew how to do that.

(Click here to add text)(Click here to add text)Ah, but no, not so fast. Look here, there’s a little round card set beside each of our placemats. One side was green and said “Sim, por favor/Yes, please”, and the other was red and said “Não, obrigado/No, thank you”. We were to turn it either way according to whether or not we needed a fresh meat injection.

It has been said that this system came into being when the churrascaria de rodizio first appeared in the United States, perhaps so that the Americans on meat heat didn’t have to waste any time or chewing energy in catching a server’s eye.

He invited us to take a plate and help ourselves to the buffet items and then when we returned to our table the meat barrage would begin. One of our party, from a large – mainly male – family, was immediately alert to what he regarded as an underhand attempt to deny him his dinner. His true dinner, that is, his money’s worth, his meat. ‘They want us to fill up on the buffet,’ he said, holding on tight to his knife and fork.

As we reflected on whether the buffet could really be a trap a waitress took our drinks orders. Draught and bottled lagers run from £3.50, there’s one bitter (Thwaites Smooth) at £3.30, caipirinhas go for £6.00, other cocktails from £7.00, and wine starts at £3.00 for a small glass or £14.95 for a bottle.

We approached the buffet station with fine ideas of being restrained, perhaps picking up a bit of lettuce, maybe some onion and tomato, rejecting anything filling. We returned to our table with mounds of stodge. There were salads at the buffet, yes – greens, tomatoes, pasta, cous cous, red cabbage, olives and more – but then there was all this other good stuff, too – garlic mushrooms, paella, a fish stew called moqueca, semolina, breaded chicken and a fair bit more. Somehow it seemed as if we had stumbled on something we weren’t supposed to find, and so we ransacked it. Mind games. They brought our drinks, then some chips to go with, and still not a sausage.


Then it began. The meat carvers – passadores – came bearing gifts. Sausages first, plump and red and oozing oil, followed by rump steak and then, over the course of an hour or more: hunks of sirloin, beef skirt and ribs, the Brazilian favourite picanha (rump cap), chicken thighs with chilli, leg of lamb, smoked gammon, pork collar and ribs, and delicious little chicken hearts.

There was even spit-roasted garlic bread and cinnamon-covered pineapple, intended as a palate cleanser, though we didn’t get round to trying it. Cleansing was far from our minds. The meat was at times delicious and we learned to ask for slices from the inside of the cut if we wanted it rare. It didn’t take long for the cards to remain firmly red side up. No wonder that churrasco is more commonly eaten at lunchtime in Brazil as it felt like digesting this lot was not going to be a gentle business; more like an exorcism, and sleep would not come easily.

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Towards the end of the evening we realised that we had missed one whole side of the buffet. Here were to be found some Brazilian classics – cheese bread (pão de queijo) which, in form, resemble Pizza Express dough balls, feijoada) and farofa), plus chunks of orange.

The feijoada) with rice, orange and farofa) – toasted manioc flour – was as good as I remembered it in Brazil, though I’d have liked the tempering bitterness of collard greens (couve)) that I ate with it there. I enquired about this as we left and was told that they did offer them, so I must have missed them.

Desserts run £3.50 to £5.25 but really, come on…

At £24.50 this was hard to fault. A reduced meat service runs at lunchtimes (just picanha), rump steak, chicken thighs, pork ribs, lamb and sausage) for £12.50 midweek and £17.50 at weekends. The buffet alone can be had for £8.00 at lunchtimes or £12.50 in the evenings. A couple of portions of the moqueca )and the feijoada) and you’ve definitely got your money’s worth there.

While it seems that Bem Brasil and its almost identical rival Viva Brazil in Castle Street, have got the churrasco) market pretty well covered now in Liverpool, what about the other style of Brazilian restaurant known as comida por quilo) where you fill your plate then have it weighed at the counter and pay accordingly? It’s a cheap, canteen-like affair in Brazil and could make for an excellent lunchtime alternative here in Liverpool.

Weighing your food wouldn’t work at Bem Brasil, though: you’re really better off not knowing.

 




 

Rating:15/20
Breakdown:7/10 food
4/5 service
4/5 ambience
Address:Bem Brasil
47-49 Hanover Street
L1 3DN
0151 709 0044

 

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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AnonymousJanuary 11th 2011.

You have to be a very greedy person to eat in these places, or absolutely starving for days before. By the time the trip to the buffet has been factored in and eaten and the chips and beer and then fifth lot of meat comes around it's starting to all become a bit like a sample-tasting session at a butchers. Good for those who like all-you-can-eat buffets and £24 should not only buy you food but a guard against the vile scallies and chavs who frequent places like world buffet star.

saladdazeJanuary 11th 2011.

Hmmmm... reminds me a bit of those Mongolian places of (?) yesteryear. This doesn't sound like very fane daning to me. And the Thwaites doesn't seem very Brazilian. And, while I'm at it, I hope the whole of Liverpool's restaurant equipe is forced to watch Michel Roux's Service. recently I've been called 'mate' by someone a third of my age with whom I did not wish intimacy, and asked too often 'are y'oright?' (to which answers include, 'no, I have a serious case of advanced [insert disease]' or 'no, I'm terribly worried about Palestine'. Where's me customer delight? Where's me Rennies?

MerseymikeJanuary 11th 2011.

Actually, the sides and salads at Viva Brazil are better so that has the edge, but this is very good food. The meat is good quality. Oh, and the drink to have is a Caipirinha - the cachaca and lime drink on ice. Have a passion fruit one. if you're thirsty then have a coke as its probably what they'd have in Brazil!

Carmen VerandahJanuary 12th 2011.

What? £24 per head and no tablecloths or proper napkins?
It sounds like one of those carvery places!

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Carmen Verandah

What? £24 per head and no tablecloths or proper napkins? It sounds like one of those carvery…

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Merseymike

Actually, the sides and salads at Viva Brazil are better so that has the edge, but this is very…

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saladdaze

Hmmmm... reminds me a bit of those Mongolian places of (?) yesteryear. This doesn't sound like very…

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Anonymous

You have to be a very greedy person to eat in these places, or absolutely starving for days before.…

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