So hello from Rio! It’s Carioca time. There’s a glass of caipirinha in my hand, Bahian coconut chicken on my plate and bossa nova on the sound system. Party on.
Actually, apart from the location the rest is correct. I can’t quite run to the Copacabana so my road to Rio is a window table at Brazilian-themed restaurant Las Iguanas on a bright if breezy day at Sheffield’s West One. A girl sashays by outside in a coat not a bikini.
You won’t have missed the fact that there is an awful lot of sport, as well as coffee, in Brazil right now, what with the Olympics. You might have missed the fact that this is the Las Iguanas chain’s 25th anniversary. So that you don’t they’ve got a special menu on until the end of August.
Put on your loudest shirt, skimpiest skirt and don’t forget the flip-flops and have two courses and a drink for £17 (or three for £20) and be a carioca, a Brazilian party animal.
Now you could never accuse me and the missus of being party animals but we take the opportunity to pop in at lunchtime. We’re met by manager Hugo and it’s a bit quiet. “You should be at Meadowhall (the chain’s other outlet in Sheffield) so you can feel the vibe,” he says.
For a minute I think Hugo is going to ring the Meadowhall branch and check on the current vibe. We say we’ll imagine the vibe, if that’s all right by him, and yes some drinks would help. He brings a caipirinha for her and a Brazilian lager for me and we discover he’s Portuguese, from Porto, which we visited earlier this year. So we feel we’re halfway to Brazil in spirit.
Hugo says his name is pronounced without the ‘h’ and sometimes people think he’s saying “you go.” Luckily for him one customer didn’t. She married him.
Las Iguanos is a big place with over 130 covers and an impressive bar and the food’s not bad either. I kick off with a mini picanhana churrasco, which means pieces of very juicy rump steak on a skewer, with a spicy green molho a campanha salsa. She has dadinhos, cubes of fried cheese enlivened with a pot of chilli jami. Life is brighter with a dollop of chilli jam. And a caipirinha.
You could have the chance of tasting the same food in Rio itself because diners get the chance to enter a contest for a free trip to Brazil for two. Just to get you in the mood the tables have a handy Rio street map and some useful phrases, such as “como vai?” which means How are you? Very well, since you ask.
There are six mains and we don’t go wrong with our choices. The coconut chicken with its chilli kick reminds me of a Thai curry with a gingery coconut sauce. I like the rice with spring onions and the shredded greens.
My wife’s got more coconut on her plate, making up a milder sauce to cover the peeled prawns and cubes of white fish. It comes with spring onion rice, sweet plantain, pico de gallo (a frisky salsa) and a little pot of coconut farofa. No I didn’t know what it was, either. Think crispy grains of coconut you sprinkle over your food like seasoning but with a crunch.
I hadn’t realised the Brazilians were nuts about coconuts. There are a bunch of them on display as decoration and I’ve got tembleque, a set coconut pudding for dessert. As a special treat for cariocas Las Iguanos also offers Brigadeiro, not normally on the menu. This is a runny, intensely chocolatey affair tasting, as my wife put it, “a bit like the bowl you used to lick out when your mum was making chocolate cake.”
I should point out the food and drinks were on Las Iguanas, the vibe was on Hugo. He’ll be taking charge of the Meadowhall restaurant from Monday.
Las Iguanas is at West One, Fitzwilliam Street, Sheffield S1 4JP. Tel: 0114 252 1010. Web: http://www.iguanas.co.uk