Brazilian cuisine was the new ethnic food arrival on the Gold Coast in 2012, with A Carne Churrascaria being one of a handful of new Brazilian restaurants to open.
Churrascaria (pronounced choo-rah-scah-REE-ah) means ‘barbeque’ in Portuguese, and refers not only to the way the food is cooked rotisserie style over a wood or charcoal grill, but also to the unique style of food service, known as ‘Rodizio’. It’s a fixed price continuous table service where waiters move around from table to table, slicing different cuts of meat onto your plate. There’s no traditional menu of dishes to choose from; instead, the menu gives an indication of what will be served to you. Accompanying side dishes are included in the price.
Rodizio, passing the meat around, originated in the south of Brazil in the early 1800s. The ‘chirrasco’ style of cooking was inspired by European immigrants who’d settled the Rio Grande do Sul as cattle herders or ranchers (Gauchos). At the end of a long day droving, they’d gather around a wood fire to roast skewered chunks of prime meat over the glowing embers. Passing the skewers around, each drover would carve off succulent pieces of meat onto his plate, eating as much as he desired.
Today, churrascaria restaurants are as popular in Brazil as pizzerias are in Italy (and Australia), and knowing how much Aussies love a ‘barbie’, it’s surprising that they’ve taken so long to reach the Gold Coast!
A Carne Churrascaria, just north of Q1, is the original Brazilian restaurant on the Gold Coast, and our most authentic churrascaria.
We’re seated immediately, drink order taken, and we have a chance to glance around before the first food arrives. It’s an expansive restaurant, large enough to seat over 100 diners.
They’re a patriotic lot, these Brazilians, with one wall graced by a huge poster of the Brazilian soccer team, another in a huge mural by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto, above corrugated iron feature panels. It’s bright, airy and informal, suitable for family or group dining, with a few quieter spaces for couples outside. Skank’s filling the airwaves, Tão Seu soul music, Brazilian too, of course! It all fits the concept, yet it’s different enough for us to sit up and take notice.
It’s interesting to see Gold Coast chefs taking opposite approaches to food preparation: on the one hand, there’s high-tech molecular gastronomy, which offers complete control over the product; on the other the backwards journey to the very origins of cooking over fire. The Brazilian BBQ is definitely on the earthy end.
At the back of the restaurant in full view is the kitchen. The huge wood-fired grill takes pride of place, lines of skewers holding different meats just above the coals, delicious aromas wafting out into the restaurant. The aged hardwood charcoals used in A Carne Churrascaria give a distinct yet subtle earthy kiss of smoke to the meat, an almost mesquite flavour which simply cannot be replicated by a gas stove. There’s no comparison to how this meat tastes, succulent with the juices sealed in, the outer meat with a slightly charred but not burned crust, medium to well-done for those who prefer it, meat closer to the skewer even more moist and rare.
It’s an ‘all you can eat’ BBQ experience for a reasonable $38 per person. (Kids aged 3 – 12 are $1.50 per year.) The Brazilian waiters move from the kitchen into the restaurant, each carrying a large skewer: rump cap (picanha), beef ribs, lamb, pork, sausage, chicken wrapped in bacon, octopus, fish, prawns, haloumi, garlic bread, or our favourite, pineapple. Have a chat to the waiters, but pay attention! It’s a fun participatory dining experience where your tongs are an essential tool to transport the carved meat from the skewer to your plate.
There’s time enough between the waiters’ arrival to allow conversation and eating, with plates of accompaniments of salad, black beans, olives, rice and cheese bread on the table to snack from in between the arrival of each skewer. It’s an unhurried dining experience which would be great for a group to share. Some of the tastes are familiar, while others are not, making it a culinary adventure. We give the chicken hearts a miss, and find the black beans and roasted cassava flour unusual, but the meat is simply delicious – a carnivore’s delight!
There’s a vegetarian menu as well, with ravioli and palm heart risotto on offer, but we’ve got to say that’s not the main menu focus. Non-meat offerings also come out on the skewers: the haloumi is deliciously smoky – different to Greek-style haloumi, and the pineapple unexpectedly divine. Marinated in orange juice, smothered in sugar and cinnamon then wood grilled whole, it’s a smoky caramelised delight!
A Samoan family at a nearby are enjoying the feast. It’s surprising how familiar we are with some of the menu items, some food even found in other regional cuisine: cassava, native to the Amazon, served here as lightly fried wedges, is also a Pacific Island staple; caramelised pineapple features also in Pacific Rim menus; quinoa, a South American ancient grain, served here as a salad, is newly popular in the Western world; we’d expect to see slabs of polenta and parmesan bread in Italy, but here it’s served in delicious small almost bit-size parcels. Yum!
We’d begun our drinks order with a Brazilian Miolo Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, until owner/manager Ondre suggests that we try a Caipirinha, a Mojito-like cocktail which mixes sugar cane spirit with lime and sugar. It’s the national drink of Brazil, and its base spirit, Cachaça, a white rum, is the third most consumed spirit in the world! It’s not hard to see why! We find it better suited to the food than wine, so refreshing that we could drink it all night!
With its bright artwork, authentic regional cuisine and continuous food service, A Carne Churrascaria is a perfect family or party venue. An article in The New York Times recently commented: “Two things are required to truly appreciate Churrascaria…A large appetite to keep you eating and a large group to cheer you on.”
There’s a take away roast meat sandwich on offer, but take our advice and dine in with friends for a true Brazilian experience. Next time we go to A Carne Churrascaria, it will be to party!
Caipirinha (recipe adapted from http://www.perfectcaipirinha.com/)
1 lime, cut into quarters
2 tablespoon of sugar
2 ounces of Cachaça
Crushed ice or ice cubes
Put the sugar and lime into a glass and mash them together using a pestle. (Muddling the fruit is the key to releasing its flavour and fully mixing the sugar with the fruit.) Add crushed ice or ice cubes to fill the glass. Then, add Cachaça to the glass and stir it to mix. Garnish with a slice of fresh lime and a sprig of mint.
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