Brazilian barbecue, Sydney

In the last few years I’ve gradually become less inclined to eat out. It was increasingly difficult to find somewhere offering value for money and I came to the conclusion that I could cook a healthier, tastier meal myself, for half the cost.

But that was then. Recently, I discovered one of Sydney’s Brazilian barbecue hotspots that restored my faith. At Churrasco on William Street you can eat as much as you like for $44, choosing from a vast selection of meats that are cooked over an open flame and brought to your table.

My friend and I stepped through the glass doors to be met with wafts of wood, smoke and animal fat. A buzz of joyous conversation in the air like a mini street festival was evocative of Brazil itself.

Once we were seated on the low wooden benches, bowls of black beans, rice and salsa were distributed. It took great restraint on my part not to fill up on these.

I realised the importance of pacing myself if I wanted to sup on Churrasco’s entire array. I needed to chew slowly, drink plenty of fluid and not go overboard on the portion sizes. If you’re not careful, a night at Brazilian barbecue could only last 15 minutes.

After a short wait, the floodgates opened and a continuous stream of waiters and waitresses came by our table, offering a rich variety of charred meats. I chowed down chunks of peppered sirloin that tingled on the tongue and melted in the mouth, pork belly sweating with fat and chorizo sausages that popped with salinity.

Their selection is vast and generally focuses on beef, chicken and pork cooked with a variety of generous glazes and marinades–orange and mustard seed; sea salt and fresh lime; lemon and oregano. My taste buds shudder in unison at the memory.

Better still are their legendary cheese balls–soft, doughy spheres with a stringy cheese filling. Although there are some vegetarian-friendly delights on offer, over two-thirds of the menu items are meaty, and the fact that vegetarians have to pay the full $44 suggests they might be better off elsewhere.

But personally, I’d be happy to dine solely on their cheese balls, grilled pineapple slices and golden deep fried bananas that give a glass-like crunch.

After 30 minutes, I experienced an unnerving juxtaposition: on the one hand my brain was eager to keep receiving joyous brainwaves of delight triggered by the seriously flavoursome, highly seasoned food. ‘I must get my money’s worth…I must try everything on offer…’ I thought to myself.

But on the other hand, my stomach was struggling. My jaws ached and I felt as if there was a queue of meat chunks waiting to be digested all the way up my gullet, so that if I turned my head towards the floor, food would actually fall out.

It was the moment I’d dreaded. My stomach was full to the brim, while my mind screamed out for more food. Rather than worrying about not getting enough food (as is the case with most other restaurants), I was sad that my limited stomach capacity had gone against me.

Churrasco have a system where each diner is given a small piece of card, green on one side to indicate to the waiters that the diner wants food, and red on the other to indicate the diner is replete (full to the point of serious stomach pain). With some sadness, I turned my card over to red.

But still the staff approached our table with their gigantic skewers. I felt bad for turning them away, most of whom were genuinely friendly and presented each dish with enthusiasm. I made sure I declined their offers with an apologetic and equally friendly smile in return.

The only slight drawback to the whole experience is that it’s difficult to construct your ideal meal. I would’ve liked a bit of greenery to accompany my meat heap, but by the time the salad came round to us I couldn’t even manage a wafer thin leaf. Likewise I was too full for the chicken hearts, which I’d been told were “squidgy and salty”.

Whatever comes your way is just the luck of the draw. Traditionalists may be bothered by this set up, but the unknown is part of the excitement.

I’ve tried so very hard at vegetarianism, but Brazilian barbecue makes it so much trickier. Meat is my guilty pleasure, and I left the restaurant with mixed emotions; part guilt, like an ex smoker who’d just chain-smoked fifty in half an hour.

But mostly I felt happiness. I was happy because for once, I’d got one up on the proprietor. I ate more than my $44 worth. This was just as satisfying as a full stomach.

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