Food review: Fazenda, Birmingham - 3.5 out of 5
Rump cap: they’re two little words that send a frisson of excitement through all self-respecting carnivores. We’re talking cuts of meat here, not headwear for bottoms, and Fazenda, the recently-opened West Midlands Brazilian restaurant, ships it by the cattle-truck-load.
The rump cap – or Picanha, as the Brazilians prefer to call it, sits just above the rump and it’s heavy fat coverage helps to keep it moist, while packing plenty of flavour. And it’s not the only interesting cut on offer at the carnivore-friendly joint, off Birmingham’s Colmore Row.
Studying the menu is like taking a PhD course in gourmet butchery. For in this PC age of gender-fluid, transgender-embracing, vegan-loving, sexually-non-binary, food-allergy-avoiding restaurants, it’s a blessing when one opens that puts meat unashamedly on the menu. Meat. Ha. Are we still allowed to eat that stuff in 2019? It’s not yet been banned by Waitrose-aisle-storming, placard-waving, Good Morning-appearing protestors who instead want us to feast on palm oil crops that are decimating the rain forests of Malaysia and Indonesia and endangering species that have bestrode the planet for millions of years. Great. Then to Fazenda we will go.
Rump caps aren’t the only cut that feature on a meat-heavy menu. Bottom sirloins, sirloins, beef tenderloins, beef skirts and rumps can also be found alongside assorted cuts of lamb, pork and chicken, not forgetting cheeky little chorizo, gammon with pineapple and sausages with bacon. And before we move onto dinner, let’s reflect for a moment on the dreaded gammon. Don’t for a moment confuse the Fazenda-style offering with the pallid offerings of some Black Country pubs that serve it with tinned pineapple or an overcooked battery farm egg alongside limp chips that hail from the freezer. Nor, indeed, imagine it’s the culinary equivalent of the hilariously-nicknamed Brexit-voting, europhobic, middle-aged white male, whose meat-faced complexion suggests they are perilously close to a stroke. It’s quite the reverse. Fazenda offers the whole gammon, carved at the table, with a whole pineapple, roasted on a griddle. It’s a Rio Carnival of a dish, rather than a metaphorical porcine finger that demands immediate nuclear strikes against Remain-voting areas, people who eat vegetables and/or cyclists.
But I digress. Or, rather, I become too excitable at the prospect of an honest-to-goodness restaurant that gives diners the opportunity to experience and assimilate culinary cultures from around the world. Especially those that involve meat.
I booked a last-minute table at Fazenda and the joint was jumping with city types dressed in shiny, £200 suits looking to celebrate the end of a hard day at the virtual coal face. Men who would have had some explaining to do to their wives, or, more likely, their empty beds and empty fridges, were quaffing ale and attempting to limbo under imaginary rods. I guess that thing happens when you’re two pints in and all you’ve had for lunch is a quinoa salad with roasted beetroot and feta.
The restaurant is divided into two principle areas; a bustling bar with a range of whiskies, mocktails, ales and similar and a capacious dining room. It’s dimly lit and features a mass of exposed industrial ephemera – you know the sort of thing, metal casings that look like air vents from which Edison light bulbs are suspended.
Staff are dressed in uniforms of red and most speak with South American accents, the product, one assumes, of a Brazilian background or heritage. Helpful, confident and efficient, they represented their paymasters well and added to the experience.
Fazenda’s a concept restaurant, of course, that is far removed from the trad-British dining experience of a la carte menus and waitress service. In short, guests arrive at their table and then descend on a gourmet salad bar that features a wide range of international salads, sushi, cheeses, pickles and deli ephemera before returning to their seats. A wave of waiters sweep through the restaurant, bringing assorted meats cooked on kebab-style skewers. Guests are given beermat-sized cards that are green on one side and red on the other. When they are ready to be served, they move to green and waiters carve slices of rump cap, beef skirt, spicy chorizo and chicken hearts. When replete, guests turn the cards to red and take a little time to digest. Simples.
So I started with a trip to the salad bar, making sure I was first to visit so as to get the pick of the elaborately arranged offerings. It was like being at a huge tableaux on a fancy cruise ship, with salmon, curried cauliflower florets, broccoli, all salads under the sun and other titbits arranged elegantly.
And having returned to the table and begun to make my way through a reasonably-healthy selection, I welcomed the red-shirted waiters who brought sizzling meats, one-by-one, to offer a slice of freshly carved rump, sirloin, chicken thighs and more. It made for an interesting experience and the difference in flavour and texture between different cuts of beef made for an enjoyable experience. It was like being on the tasting panel of some high-end gourmand butchery, with a slither of this comparing rather nicely with a hunk or that and a generous cut of the other. The tenderloin stood out – no surprises, you can’t go wrong with a bit of file-mignon – while smoked, roasted gammon with a slice from a whole pineapple and a traditional Brazilian bacon-wrapped chicken breast were also notable. The waiters returned repeatedly – stopping just short of bringing either a cow or a pig – until I turned my table card to red. It was fun, light-hearted, informal, exciting and mostly absolutely delicious. The quality was good and while buffets with table-to-table carveries can’t offer finesse, Fazenda did provide excitement, big flavours and plenty of conceptual allure.
We ought to mention the venue’s concession to vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians who, of course, are well catered for with whisky-marinated salmon, rice and farofa, goat’s curd and beetroot and lemon and seeds.
But ostensibly, the five-branch mini chain is all about the beef. And it doesn’t get much meatier than a night out at Fazenda.