There’s no lack of choice when it comes to cosy cafés in Vila Madalena. And if you’re willing to spend a bit extra on a cup of decent coffee and a Wi-Fi hookup, the choice has become all the greater of late, with a raft of gourmet bakery-cum-cafés opening since 2012.
Passing through the Vila recently, in the mood for a posh coffee and with an hour to kill, we stopped in at one such place – Le Pain Quotidien – an upmarket Belgian chain that has gone from zero to four SP branches in less than a year.
Free Wi-Fi in a bright, airy space? Check. Neutral jazz on the stereo? Check. Large communal table full of cappuccinos and PowerBooks, and creative types fiddling on Facebook and pretending it’s work? Those, too. Plus, in true SP style, valet parking at the door.
Heading inside past stacks of pastries and beautiful, crusty loaves of bread, a glance at the price of the jars of nut and chocolate spreads on the shelves was a little sobering – R$39.90 – with jams from R$22.90.
But we were in luck: verging on lunchtime, it was nevertheless still officially breakfast at Le Pain (until noon, or 3pm at weekends), and each table was laid with a selection of the aforementioned spreads to go with breakfast choices such as toast with ham and Emmental cheese (R$10.90), and a basket of breads, croissant or pain au chocolat, with orange juice and a hot drink (R$22).
We ordered a basket of assorted slices of bread (R$13.90 for two), and dipped in to try the spreads. Rhubarb jam: very sugary, but also nicely rich and tart. Hazelnut spread: sumptuously nutty and delicious. White chocolate spread: horribly over-sweet, with little of the warmth and unctuousness of white chocolate. The list of ingredients on the jar, in order of quantity, was enough to explain that one: ‘Sugar, vegetable oil, skimmed milk powder, whey powder, white chocolate (7%)’.
The omelette with mushrooms and cheese (R$18), as pale and colourless as any omelette I’ve ever seen, was in a similar, under-flavoured predicament. There were a few tasty slivers of mushroom in there, but so little cheese it was barely discernible, and it came garnished with a salad with only the vaguest suggestion of a dressing.
Looking on the bright side, though, the service was thoughtful and attentive, and the space just lovely, with an immense mirror soaring up the wall opposite the mezzanine space overhead.
The cappuccino (R$6.50) was just as it should be – free of the chocolate sludge you sometimes find at the bottom of cappuccinos here in Brazil, and served in a très français handleless bowl. The bread, the flagship product, and on sale by the loaf or half loaf, is simply delicious – don’t miss the raisin and nut flute; and the lunch we saw beginning to be served up around us looked amazing. We’ll be back to try it again, PowerBooks and all.
Other locations Shopping Vila Olimpia, Rua das Olimpiadas 360 (3047 6541); Rua Pais de Araujo 178, Itaim Bibi (3078 0383); Shopping Cidade Jardim, Avenida Magalhães de Castro 12,000 (3758 3597).