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'I realise it’s been a privilege to travel the world for 30-odd years making an unholy noise in a punk rock band, as well as visiting countless vegetarian restaurants along the way. But Sensible’s the name, and it’s all in a day’s work.
'Some countries used to be a complete nightmare for vegetarians, but even Germany is comparatively easy these days for the non-carnivore. As I boarded the plane to São Paulo, my main concern was what I’d find in the way of meals the other end – a city filled with gauchos gorging on huge slabs of meat? But surprise surprise, I found more than twenty beef-free cafés to choose from on the trusty Happy Cow website (happycow.net).
'My veggie spot of choice, Alfredo, was just off Avenida Paulista, in Bela Vista, though thankfully in a street quiet enough to avoid the lunchtime crowds. It is, at least according to the flyer I took away with me, a new branch of the original Alfredo, which is right downtown in the Largo do Café (Largo do Café 14, 2nd floor, Sé, 3104 9970) and has been for nearly sixty years, which must make it one of the longest-running veggie restaurants in the world, never mind São Paulo.
'The options at the Bela Vista branch are priced either by weight, or for a fixed price, you can eat your fill from the varied lunch buffet. Being of a greedy persuasion, I opted for the latter and on my first visit overdid the wonderful salads to such an extent I had no room left for the hot food.
'Setting out to remedy that the very next day, I was wowed by a selection of tasty dishes that put a lot of European cafés to shame. Too many well-intentioned people the world over open vegetarian cafés where they avoid animal-derived products, but also manage to avoid tantalising their patrons’ tastebuds. Not so at Alfredo.They’re not over reliant on fake meats either, making the most of beans, quinoa, pasta and rice in their hot dishes, accompanied by the interestingly quaffable hot drinks on offer, like ginger tea and dark, strong ‘coffee’ made from roasted corn.
'The friendly proprietors Niane Sanmartin and Leandro Eduardo helped me negotiate buffet dishes, despite their lack of English and my lack of Portuguese. They even sent me off with a takeaway portion of dessert to devour back at the hotel. The whole experience was enough to put this excellent little veggie up up there with my other faves in Paris, New York and Sydney. Very Sensible!'
1 Jun 2012.