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Sandwiched between the Lagoa, Humaitá and Jardim Botânico, the cluster of exclusive restaurants Mr Lam, 66 Bistrô, Olympe and Oro must leave the local gourmands with enviable decision-making quandries come dinner time. Not that any of them are places most could frequent with any regularity without serious damage to arteries and wallets, occupying instead a place somewhere between haute-cuisine curios and once-in-a-lifetime treats.
Elaborate tasting menus are the order of the day at Oro, award-winning carioca chef Felipe Bronze’s restaurant and the newest addition to the neighbourhood. The focus of the dining room is very much on the kitchen, and through the large, pink-hued window there is no corner of it in which the (to a man, unusually good-looking) chefs can hide. Nor should they, for the bemused facial expressions and satisfied responses to what comes out of their huge pans and unlikely contraptions deserves to be witnessed.
Tables are jammed close together along a brick wall, the chairs unlikely eighties wicker affairs that, coupled with the French-flecked tones of our host, add to a pleasingly throwback air. When the first of the eight-course food voyage arrived in dynamic, contemporary little holders (a test-tube holder, egg carton and brick), it somehow felt as if the restaurant itself had been borrowed for the night.
Peeping out from these new additions to the table, accompanied by a deliciously light 2006 Juve y Camps Vintage, were raw filhote (an Amazonian freshwater fish)-filled cones of açaí ‘paper’, quails egg tempura with truffle essence and moqueca ‘sticks’ exploding with flavour and dipped in coconut milk. A sense-dazzling opener that set the tone for the rest of the meal and drew stares from the surrounding tables (batted back in kind as increasingly out-there looking dishes were brought forth and divvied up throughout the restaurant).
Açaí also appeared in dish two, served savoury-style with banana slices in another homage to the north of the country and drizzled with a spectacular shower of foie-gras. Powdered in liquid nitrogen after a double cooking to prevent the fat going haywire in the fast-freeze, the impression was greater than the flavour, but the crunch was nonetheless satisfying. The chef’s bag of tricks remained open for the unusual Caprese dish in which a red tomato outer shell dissolved under the addition of the hot sauce, revealing a creamy cheese underbelly.
The steak tartar was predictably knockout along with a Sileni Pinot Noir, and as the dish’s lid was removed with a triumphant flourish, so the smell of barbecue wafted out from within. The smokiness remained throughout the tartar’s short plate life, offering a nice little sense-beguiling flair to go with the light, crisp potato chips. The only slight disappointment was the carne do sol (sun-dried meat) with pumpkin, which was perhaps a nod to the north too far, but the duo of shrimps that followed put the former out to pasture in fine style.
Dessert was a production deserving of its own sitting, let alone to round off what had gone before. Chocolate, caramel and egg being the trio of ingredients represented, with mini-churros, rich chocolate fondants and halves of ‘egg’ that were in fact a coconut pudim complete with running yolks decorating the platter before the final flourish was added.
That came with a chocolate mousse squirted directly into liquid nitrogen (you can bet Bronze never tires of this) where it freezes hard as rock, before being served (still smoking) onto the dish and smashed into pleasing chunks. As the chocolate slowly melts in places, the brittle crunch and softening mousse is an exquisite sensation.
Utterly Brazilian in the liberal love of showing off his new tricks, Bronze’s Oro is unquestionably a unique addition to Rio’s dining and one that happily doesn't desert Brazilian ingredients, but one can’t help feeling that the modern style of the food deserves something of a more dynamic environment in which to enjoy it.