Maintaining a serious restaurant habit in São Paulo can be financially ruinous for those living without the luxury of an expense account. But there is an affordable way to avail yourself of the city’s very best cuisine. We’re talking 'menu executivo' set lunches; These fixed-price menus, laid on at lunchtime by the city’s best chefs, can cost less than half of the equivalent evening meal.
And OK, so it’s not exactly the same as the full evening experience; but it’s a great way to get through the door and soak up some of the ambience, as well as the cuisine.
A Bela Sintra | Brasil a Gosto | Clos de Tapas
Due Cuochi Cucina | Epice | ICI Bistrô | Kinoshita | Le Casserole
Rua Bela Cintra 2325, Jardim Paulista, 3891 0740, abelasintra.com.br
Quietly exuding refinement, A Bela Sintra is one of the most elegant Lusitan eateries in São Paulo, and the perfect spot to bring a client, or even the in-laws. Choice is limited, but the expensive Portuguese delicacy bacalhau (salt cod) is always a good option, prepared in several different ways depending on the day. The mid-week set lunch includes a couvert and main course, as well as mineral water and coffee. Bonus.
Set lunch R$66 (Mon-Fri).
Rua Azevedo de Amaral 70, Jardim Paulista, 3086 3565, brasilagosto.com.br
The bright young chef Ana Luiza Trajano serves an imaginative lunch menu at this chic Jardins spot, using a creative bounty of Brazilian ingredients. The options change daily; on our Wednesday visit, we tried a starter of queijo coalho cheese with sweet molasses and a spring onion pesto, and a delicious main of grilled pork with an intensely fruity jabuticaba sauce, inhame (root vegetable) mash and grilled plantain. Read more on Brasil a Gosto
Set lunch R$44 (Tue-Fri).
Rua Domingos Fernandes 548, Vila Nova Conceiçao, 3045 2154, closdetapas.com.br
Tuca Reines/Press image
For food that’s creative with flavours, and even more so with presentation, Clos de Tapas is a must-try. Here, it’s all about high-concept cuisine. The four-course tasting menu that excites diners in the evening with its foams, spheres and no end of surprises, is served in a reduced form at lunchtime with three courses and a generous couvert.
Choices are variations on Spanish classics given an international twist; try the beautifully balanced watercress, white bean and cod salad followed by the rice with sundried beef and a tangy pequi fruit sauce. Desserts are miniature works of art, and the peanut brioche with caramelised banana and cacao ice-cream is a masterpiece. The double-height floor-to-ceiling windows here create an impressive space when the sun is shining. Read more on Clos de Tapas
Set lunch R$48 (Mon-Fri).
Rua Manoel Guedes 93, Itaim Bibi ,3078 8092, duecuochi.com.br
Tadeu Brunelli/Press Image
The king of the jungle when it comes to São Paulo power lunches, Due Cuochi is hugely popular both day and night, so come prepared to queue. The space comes into its own at lunchtime, with a magic formula of price, quality and – most impressively – choice, with three daily specials as well as a set list of main courses to pick and mix from.
The weekly specials cover meats and pastas, but a fish of the day, served with roasted vegetables and basil, is on the set list, and always good, leaving you extra room for a gloriously calorific dessert. Do your meal justice and take your time. Read more on Due Cuochi Cucina
Set lunch R$54 for four courses (Mon-Fri).
Rua Haddock Lobo 1002, Jardim Paulista, 3062 0866, epicerestaurante.com.br
The talented young chef Alberto Landgraf, who worked under British chef Gordon Ramsay at his eponymous London restaurant, has been earning plaudits all round for his well executed, decent-value contemporary cuisine since opening in 2011. The set lunch changes every day, with two choices for each of the three courses.
Expect reasonable quality, presentation and portion sizes, though not on par with the à la carte menu. Complimentary mineral water and a couvert of breads with butter, olive oil and flor de sal helps keep costs down, as do a few bargain wines by the glass.
Set lunch R$45 (Tue-Fri).
Rua Pará 36, Higienópolis, 3259 6896, icibistro.com.br
Chef Benny Novak serves up well-prepared bistro classics in a newly-refurbished space that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris – or London, Tokyo or New York, for that matter. Here, lunch (R$56 for 3 courses; R$46 for 2) is merely a pared down version of the à la carte menu, with four choices for each course. Which means canny diners can even do the math to optomise their savings.
We tried the oeufs brouillés (translation: deliciously posh scrambled eggs) and a very decent steak, whose frites were disappointingly cold. A good choice of half- and quarter-bottles of wine scores bonus marks. Read more on ICI Bistrô
Set lunch R$46-$56 (Mon-Fri).
Rua Jacques Félix 405, Vila Nova Conceição, 3849 6940, restaurantekinoshita.com.br
Peu Reis/Press image
You pay top dollar for dinner here (R$290 for nine courses), making lunch ideal for discovering the skill – and some of the daring ideas – of chef Murakami and his team. A seat at the counter affords a good view of preparations and may well land you in conversation (be it in English, Japanese or Portuguese) with the charismatic Murakami himself.
The two lunch menus (R$49 and R$68) change daily, but take it from us; go for the pricier of the two to enjoy a second sushi course. And with the dainty portions, you’ll probably need it, too. Read more on Kinoshita
Set lunch R$49 or R$68 (Mon-Fri).
Largo do Arouche 346, Centro, 3331 6283, lacasserole.com.br
Tadeu Brunelli/Press image
For over 50 years, the downtown French restaurant La Casserole has resisted the decay of its surroundings, offering authentic bistro food that transcends fads. The set lunch packages three courses, similar fare to its evening classics, into a reasonably priced menu. The bistro wins extra points for publishing the lunch menu for the week ahead on its website too. Read more on La Casserole
Set lunch R$42 (Tue-Fri).
All lunch prices are correct as of July 2012.