If you have accepted that you are going to be served endless skewers of grilled meat until you turn the green disc on your table from green to red to warn them that your stomach can take no more, Anderson is the man you want to serve you. Anderson, the ebullient restaurant manager at Rodizio Rico’s, has been in the UK for just one week, but he’s already shaking it up at the small chain’s Islington branch (for those of you with SW postcodes, they have recently opened a new branch in Fulham). He speaks only broken English in a staccato yet strangely hypnotizing Brazilian voice and informs us that he’s more of a consultant than anything else. After travelling from South America, via the USA, to finally find his oeuvre in Slovakia, he has a unique methodology when it comes to knocking the ‘passadors’ or ‘meat carvers’, into shape. He’s a big man and he’s been hardened over the last two years working the Brazilian barbeques of Bratislava, so I guess people here do what they’re told. He claims that when he arrived the ‘passadors’ didn’t have a clue and makes a limp-wristed slicing gesture before pointing to the grill area where a sturdy looking brute expertly sharpens a long, menacing looking machete: it’s clear that Anderson runs a tight ship.
Rodizio Rico sells itself as London’s authentic Brazilian barbeque. At this point Anderson nods and smiles, claiming this is the best ‘authentic Brazilian barbeque’ he’s worked in for ages – even better than Bratislava. It’s a simple concept. There’s a salad bar that houses an improbable array of hot and cold salads and then there’s the grill. The selection of salads available is truly something to behold. Anderson explains that when he arrived, the salad bar was a hollow shell of the counter we see before us. Again he’s shaking his head in a manner that indicates things were difficult before his arrival. The hot plates hang heavy with bowl after bowl of side options. There’s everything from deep fried banana to macaroni cheese, and endless options in between. The cold salads are also impressive: a multitude of greens – layer upon layer of foliage and all manner of exotic looking beans. You could easily come and be well fed without even thinking about the meat sweats, but we’re here for the authentic Brazilian experience, and I’m convinced that meat sweats must be involved. The grill area dominates one side of the restaurant; it’s a huge structure that spits and snarls, hidden underneath a sea of smoke. Meat is sent from the grill at regular intervals and is offered to the tables that have their green discs showing. This strikes me as a rather bizarre notion – switching to the warning light of red, so as to avoid the grill boy’s meat – but I run with it, Anderson smiles and says ‘this is a very good system’.
We’re offered cocktails, Caipirinhas, the house special, and we accept happily. We’re keen to lose ourselves in the moment and become immersed in the carnival vibe. Soon after we’ve settled into our drinks, a smorgasbord of meat and steel starts flying towards us. The passadors do not speak a great deal; most of the time they go about their work in a steely, purposeful silence, thrusting skewers towards diners, introducing a wide selection of prime cuts. This delivery system might sound a little brutal, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief at the fact a silent Brazilian is standing there holding a whole rump of beef and offering to cut chunks off using his machete, then Rodizio Rico can offer some very rewarding dining. The meat is delicious and comes in a wide range of forms. We start with chicken wings, thighs and hearts! Once these are dispatched along with a second round of Caipirinhas, we move on to beef and spiced Brazilian sausage. This isn’t a place for those looking for dainty slices of fillet steak, the beef falls from the skewers in thick pink slabs, cut through with dense, marbled fat. The meat has a deep, burly flavour, redolent of smoke and iron.
I start eating huge quantities of meat. The passadors seem to be moving faster now, and I think they’ve brought more cocktails. The music is loud and I seem to be tapping my feet, the whole experience takes on a wild, celebratory tone. The steak that’s just arrived isn’t merely steak, but steak and cheese. I‘m vaguely intrigued by how they’ve managed to thread strips of cheese through the meat, but at this stage, I’m past caring. I seem to have acquired an inhuman appetite; someone’s turned the satiety switch off – I’m feasting like a god.
Eventually the moment comes and it all hits me: the beef, the chicken hearts, the cheese, the sugary Caipirinhas, the music. I’ve succumbed to the raging meat sweats; I can barely see straight, I seem to be partially blind in one eye. Finally, theatrically, I flip the disc and everything stops. The grill boys back off. It’s finished.
Eating at Rodizio Rico is a bit like watching filth with a lover: rapturous and wild in the moment, but afterwards what is left to say? My dining companion and I skip dessert, it doesn’t seem appropriate or feasible, and leave in silence. Rodizio Rico is a place to treat with caution, the meat is delicious, but you might get carried away. I’d avoid the Brazilian grill for a first date, I think the steak and cheese is something to get to grips with alone or with those that know you as a brother. Come here with hungry friends who love you unconditionally – Rodizio Rico has the charm and energy to accommodate unpredictable groups – but just stay focused and respect the traffic lights.