No longer the sole preserve of lucky Copacabana residents, after ten years in that most famous of neighbourhoods, the north-eastern cuisine specialists Toca do Siri have been lured to Baixo Leblon, nestling among other notable newcomers like Via Sete and Papajaya. A strong reputation for bringing the hearty African-influenced flavours of Bahia to carioca palates, Avenida Ataulfo da Paiva now receives the surpisingly gentle smell of dende oil doing what it does best; deep-frying balls of mashed black-eye beans or bubbling away in a moqueca.
Opened ten years ago as the informal, post-beach offspring of the more 'grown up' Siri Mole, Toca do Siri's café style lends itself to the region's cuisine - acarajé flying out of the door, gobbled up by sun worshippers fresh off the sand. As befits this part of town, however, the drinks menu has been expanded, the cocktail choice is imaginative, and 'café' doesn't really do it justice, but the original principle remains firmly intact.
The acarajé (R$18.50) - the aformentioned black eye bean patties with shrimp and vatapá (an addictive, beautifully creamy ginger/chilli/cashew/shrimp/dende/onion/tomato paste) - come in 'bits', to be self-assembled unlike on the streets of Salvador (for obvious reasons). Light and with a golden orange crust, they are a straightforward delight, given serious punch with the house hot sauce. Slip in to share a portion (3 for R$43.50) and sink a vodka and lime batida (R$16) and Toca is the perfect pit stop.
The snacks might be strong - the caldos (R$14-$16) of shrimp and mussels are perfect at 1am as 'winter' comes close - but the main courses are not to be overlooked. The shrimp moqueca (R$120 for two) may be expensive, but is surprisingly light and happily prawn-laden, and the grilled fish steaks chunky and satisfyingly meaty. Shrimp features heavily - from the thick bobó stew to populating the pasta in coconut milk - as does the all important sun-dried picanha beef (R$38), and given that the dessert choice is only three-strong (cinnamon tapioca cakes, ice cream and quindim), splurging on the savouries really is the order of the day.
The café-like environment might be slightly at odds with the high prices, but for an alternative cocktail stop to the Dias Ferreira norm the choice makes it worthwhile. Quaffing apple, strawberry and lemon martinis (R$21-$25), house mojitos (R$17) and caipirinhas made with rapadura (blocks of unrefined sugar) while watching the Leblon bustle with a hit of Bahia makes for a refreshing change.