'Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.’ Author G. K. Chesterton’s patience was clearly tested by having to listen to music over dinner. Musical tastes may have moved on since the days of Chesterton, but like it or not, you’re still just as likely to be eating out to the accompaniment of background music. And sometimes, in the most unusual of combinations.
Here in São Paulo, we’ve eaten Hungarian goulash to a reggae version of American Simon and Garfunkel classics, and vegetarian curry to the swell of Chopin’s Nocturne Opus 9 No. 2. But is there any science or logic that suggests music can enhance our epicurean enjoyment?
British chef Heston Blumenthal set out to prove there is, in 2007, when he introduced an ultra-modern seafood dish to the menu at his contemporary restaurant, the Fat Duck, which diners ate whilst listening to sounds of the sea on an iPod. Contrast that with other restaurants, where it often seems there’s little more science to it than sticking a Greatest Hits CD on loop, and hoping the customers won’t complain.
DJ Felipe Venâncio, however, has been taking restaurant soundtracks to a new, professional level, providing playlists for eight restaurants across the city, including Pirajá, Maní and Le Buteque. ‘These days, any nephew can knock up a playlist for their uncle’s restaurant,’ he says; ‘but the question is, will it work? For me, there’s always got to be an underlying concept.
At Pirajá (Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima 64, Pinheiros, 3815 6881, piraja.com.br), the music is all by carioca composers. At Maní (Rua Joaquim Antunes 210, Jardim Paulista, 3062 7458, manimanioca.com.br), with chef Helena Rizzo, it’s all about new female singers, who are having a boom at the moment, like Mariana Aydar and Tulipa Ruiz. All the French restaurants here are going for Edith Piaf and the classics, but at Le Buteque (Rua Haddock Lobo 1416, Jardim Paulista, 3083 3737, lebuteque.com.br) I’m trying to reflect today’s young mixed-race Parisian neighbourhoods, playing current Parisian tracks,’ says DJ Venâncio.
At Itaim Bibi’s Le Marais Bistrot (Rua Jerônimo da Veiga 30, Itaim Bibi, 3071 2873, lemaraisbistrot.com.br), the playlist came together a little more organically. Here, you can hear rare grooves from the vast vinyl vaults of the musician Ed Motta, an old friend of chef Wagner Resende.
‘He has 20,000 vinyl records at his home, so we came up with the idea that he would do our soundtrack, one for lunch and one for dinner,’ says Wagner. ‘Enjoying a duck foie gras terrine listening to Ozzy Osborne just isn’t going to cut it, but a song by Michel Legrand goes perfectly with moules marinières et frites and a nice glass of Louis Latour.’ Magnifique!
Over at L’Entrecôte d’Olivier (Rua Doutor Mário Ferraz 17, Jardim Europa, 3034 5324, bistroentrecote.com.br), chef Olivier Anquier keeps things simple by just sticking the radio on – French radio, that is. He streams the brilliant Radio France station, FIP, out to customers in the Jardins bistro, where they’ll be just as likely to hear Seu Jorge floating across the airwaves as the BBC Philharmonic Welsh Orchestra – plus the odd live traffic report from Paris.
Musician-turned-restaurateur Rocco Bidlovski (ex-drummer with ’80s pop-rock outfit Tokyo) takes great joy in selecting the playlists for the Middle Eastern restaurant he co-owns, Falafa (Rua Padre João Manuel 730, Jardim Paulista, 3062 7882, falafa.com.br). ‘I want it to be universal, for old ladies and little kids to have fun,’ says Bidlovski. ‘I love rock, but most of those things don’t have an all-ages appeal. James Brown is too funky, and you can’t play too much jazz with trumpets and drum solos,’ bemoans Rocco.
So just what is the perfect tune with which to eat falafel? ‘I’d say Mulatu Astatke [Ethiopian jazz legend],’ says Bidlovski. ‘Baba ganoush is more Augustus Pablo’s Rockers Meet King Tubby In A Fire House. But matzo balls and Bob Marley? That’s a trip, man.’
Play it again, waiter
There’s no shortage of live music venues in São Paulo in which to grab a bite to eat, but nowhere else will you find a more unusual live music eating experience than at vegetarian restaurant Madhurya (Rua Mourato Coelho 981, Vila Madalena, 3037 0489), where owner Gita’s sons Lucas and Eric fill the air with classical piano pieces on Mondays, Thursdays and Friday during the por kilo (by weight) lunches.
‘The place feels better with live music’ says Gita. ‘Lucas and Eric are classically trained and I love classical music, so I just let them play what they like. Most people love it, but there is a space outside if they don’t.’