São Paulo isn’t one of the first places that come to mind when you think of fine fish dining, unless we’re talking sushi. It’s 70km from the sea, and the nearest rivers are sadly in lamentable health. But with a booming gastronomy scene, and exacting diners, it was only a matter of time before seafood began to share the limelight.
The city is home to the biggest wholesale market in the continent, CEAGESP, which sells more than 250 tonnes of fish each day, hauled in by fishing fleets off Brazil’s 7,000 kilometres of Atlantic coastline, from the fresh waters of its even longer expanse of rivers, and imported from abroad.
A healthy portion of that catch lands under the sharpened knives of the sushimen, immaculately sliced in the myriad shrines to sushi sprinkled across the city; or in the hot clay pots of that most fishy of Brazilian dishes, moqueca fish stew.
And while surf may not be as beloved as turf in São Paulo, with meat being the more affordable and ubiquitous option on most menus, a fish-eating culture is slowly taking hold, helped in part by a new wave of seafood restaurants that have opened up since the beginning of 2012.
Tadeu Brunelli/Press Image
It’s prawns to the fore at two of the most ambitious, large-scale new openings. At Coco Bambu, the first São Paulo branch of a small chain of upscale restaurants from the North-Eastern state of Ceará, prawns are served every which way – battered, baked, fried, au gratin or covered in creamy Catupiry cheese. Opened in June 2012, everything is super-sized here, with room enough to seat nearly fifty football teams, making it, so they claim, the biggest restaurant in São Paulo.
The menu is vast, and the portions generous. And as if serving that quantity of food each day wasn’t enough of a logistical challenge, all the seafood that passes from pan to plate is imported from Ceará.
Meanwhile at Camarão na Moranga in the restaurant’s namesake dish of pumpkin-baked prawns, the shellfish are given a sophisticated makeover, flambéed in brandy and served au gratin. Expect to find some crustacean classics, too, from the chef Evandro Rodrigues’s homeland in the North-East, including the coconut prawn stew bobó de camarão and acarajé – black-eyed pea fritters.
The restaurant, a huge, high-ceilinged, warehouse-style space in Vila Leopoldina that opened in July 2012, is just a stone’s thrown from Parque Villa-Lobos. And with a kids’ space open at the weekends, it looks set to be a good choice for families.
Mauro Holanda/Press Image
|Soul Fish | Japanese Today
New fish on the block
A newcomer to the São Paulo sushi scene, Itaim’s curiously-named Soul Fish | Japanese Today (‘Soul today | Japanese fish’ might have made just slightly more sense) is a slick new joint, all mirrors, glass and designer chairs. Soul Fish does a little bit of everything: sushi restaurant, sake bar and party space.
The sushi counter, tucked underneath a leafy ‘winter garden’ mezzanine, is manned by sushiman Angelo Mamoru Jodai, who prepares unusual combinations like squid sushi with quail’s egg and salty roe alongside hot mains like the bamboo-steamed sea-bass with soy and lemon-grass.
In Jardins, Fishbar & Gastronomia is a new and unfussy bar-restaurant kitted out in a nautical style (think whites, blues, and sailing photos adorning the walls). The Catalan chef Oscar Bosch, who first cut his teeth in his family’s one-Michelin-starred restaurant, Can Bosch, on the coast near Barcelona, serves up his seafood with a Mediterranean twist.
Flamed-grilled sardines, grilled baby squid and fresh oysters from Cananéia in São Paulo state, or from further south in Santa Catarina, are just a few of the smaller tapas-style dishes. Bigger, beautifully presented mains include seared tuna steak, served with a houmous and chorizo ragu, as well as a few meat dishes.
Norio Ito/Press Image
|Grilled baby squid at Fishbar & Gastronomia
Finally, one of the most truly original new arrivals is Peixaria, a no-frills, taverna-style restaurant at the back of a fishmonger in Moema, with tiled floors, fishy smells and all. Order from a simple selection of starters (we’ve heard the polvo à Galega is good – octopus served with potatoes and smoked paprika) and then for mains, choose from sea-bass, grouper, anchovies, lobsters and prawns – or just point to your fish or shellfish of choice, and wait for it return piping hot on a plate, either grilled, fried or baked with salt (pay by weight, plus R$10). Now, that’s a catch.
Coco Bambu is at Avenida Antônio João de Moura Andrade 737, Itaim Bibi (3051 5255/ restaurantecocobambu.com.br)
Camarão na Moranga is at Avenida Imperatriz Leopoldina 1490, Vila Nova Leopoldina (3831 2282)
Soul Fish | Japanese Today is at Rua Manuel Guedes 452, Itaim Bibi (2361 8903/ soulfish.com.br)
Fishbar & Gastronomia is at Alameda Tietê 40, Jardim Paulista (4327 3400/ fishbar.com.br)
Peixaria is at Rua Canário 745, Moema, 5051 0575