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If running a restaurant were an Olympic sport, it might be a pentathlon, demanding stamina and a keen eye to win – or simply avoid drowning. During the Beijing Olympics, Brazilian chef Viviane Gonçalves had her own Olympian challenge of running a Chinese team at her lauded restaurant Alameda, in the Chinese capital. Seven years later, she’s back in São Paulo at the helm of her new restaurant, Chef Vivi.
Set in a quiet corner of Vila Madalena, the unassuming spot is simple and small, meaning it fills quickly, and can get packed and noisy. If there’s a waiting list, park up on one of the benches outside, from where you can see straight through to the glass-encased kitchen.
As for the food, Chef Vivi’s focus is on organic, seasonal ingredients on the limited, daily-changing menu – a refreshingly spontaneous, if unpredictable, approach.
On our visit, we opted for a tasty and generously-proportioned chancliche cheese starter with zaatar spice mix, grilled mango, sautéed radishes and leaves (R$27.50). For mains, the oven-roasted rack of lamb with red rice and a red wine sauce (R$67.50) was delicious, though the namorado fish with grilled fennel and a zucchini sauce (R$57.50) was on the bland side.
Save room for the dessert tasting menu (R$20), with five sweet delights of the day, presented in the same colourful way as the rest of the menu. The large bill put a dampener on the meal, but the budget savvy can avoid the high prices with the weekday set lunch: an appetizer, main course and dessert at R$39.50.