To coincide with the recent World Cup, the Brazilian restaurant in Market Row, Brixton changed its name from the slightly confusing Prima Donna to Carioca, thus gifting me the excuse to embed laboured football comparisons throughout this review.
Although similar to Careca, the new name actually refers to someone from Rio, originally meaning white man’s house, as the friendly Maurilio explained, but more importantly makes the place sound like what it serves; Brazilian food.
Considering Brazilian cuisine is not known for catering to vegetarians, there are still a few meat-free dishes, including a burger, and the simple starter of roast beetroot with blue Stilton salad. The subtler flavours of this dish eventually gave way to a tasty hit of Stilton.
The other starter we tried was, as it were, goal of the tournament. The delicious Bahian fish cakes, with a sweet chilli sauce, were beautifully moist in the centre, full of flavour but light enough not to encroach on the main course.
Here we had Espetinhos (beef skewers), that appear sparse on first sight, but beef wrapped in bacon is like super-charged pigs in blankets and proved ample.
We also sampled the Feijoada, Brazil’s national dish. Much like the famous team goal of the 1970 final it has a little bit of everything and the flavours end up greater than the sum of its parts; a lovely warming, earthy taste and texture. Something to select in the winter months, I’m sure.
Many drinks are available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well as Guarana juice if you’re determined to keep things Brazilian. The house cocktail, Caipirinha, would be perfect on a hot day. Refreshing, with the rum not entirely hidden, happily making the drink survive longer than those sweet cocktails that disappear too easily.
We also tried the Portuguese house red, as smooth as the menu promised, although perhaps a more robust flavour would have accompanied the steak more handsomely. Talking of which, the steak, arriving rare as ordered, was decent but a touch dry. World Cup ’94 vintage, perhaps.
The draught beer is the Brazilian Brahma, a light lager similar to Corona or Sol.
Also of Brazilian providence are the root vegetable Casava chips. Almost as good a Brazilian chip as Eder’s delicate effort against Scotland and a change from the standard English spud.
A range of cakes are the choice for dessert, and we had a pleasantly light banana cake with a thin layer of blueberries, conjuring up Nelinho v Italy.
Mains are mostly under a tenner, with the steak at £12.95. The house wines are £12.50. A meal with drinks costs £20-25 per person, plus service. A good option would be the four starters that come with 2 Caipirinhas for £25.
We sat outside amongst the bustle, but the small interior seems welcoming if either the weather or the weekend crowds force you in.
Rather than the great 1970 team, or the humiliated team of this sumer, perhaps Carioca is the ’58 team. Comfortable in Europe (Feta, ciabatta, Sicilian olives are here), familiar favourites combine with nicely presented fresh ideas, much like Garrincha and the young Pele.
Carioca goes to prove there is of course more to Brazil than football, with less chance of disappointment than often comes with following the beautiful game.
25-27 Market Row, Brixton
020 7095 9052
10.00am–4.00pm & 6.00pm–11.30pm