My husband had been looking forward to this for weeks; I was a little more trepidatious at the gargantuan task that lay ahead. Bem Brasil had been on our "to do" list for some time, a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, or Churrascaria, that had been recommended by a friend who is actually Brazilian and therefore knows what she's talking about (although she is also incredibly slim, suggesting that she doesn't dine here too often, or at least, dines here in a more restrained way than I managed last night).
We weren't booked in until nine; this place is phenomenally popular, and despite the fact I rang up to book a couple of weeks ago I was met with the options dreaded by diners everywhere - they could fit us in at nine or at six. Well then, nine o'clock, obviously. When we arrived, the restaurant was packed to the gills with girls wearing very very short dresses and very very high heels; it's clearly a popular place for girls' nights out, and also for that bastion of good taste the works do, judging by the similarly high number of ladies of a certain age in sensible mid-calf frocks. The noise was astonishing and a little overwhelming; I had a brief but compelling urge to run away and never come back.
All was saved wben a lovely smiling girl arrived with caipirinhas; they have mobile cocktail stations here (basically jazzed up hostess trolleys) where they make them at your table, although I noticed this perk was seemingly reserved for the larger, drunker parties. Our table was next to the buffet, where you collect your plate and help yourself to potatoes and vegetables - I was tempted to shout "noooooooo" at the innocent fools piling their plates high with spuds, but in the end left them to their fate, secure in the knowledge this would mean all the more fillet steak for me.
The restaurant promises fifteen different cuts of meat that are carved and served at your table - you are each given a cardboard disc, and simply turn it to the green side to say to the passing waiters "yes! bring your meaty wares here, young man" or red for "no - leave me be, for I fear I may burst". We counted as high as twelve different cuts, including fillet, rump, skirt and sirloin steak, chicken wrapped in bacon, sausages, pork tenderloin, lamb, and beef and pork ribs. No idea what the others might have been, as I had passed into a meat-induced coma by 10pm.
The food is good value if you pace yourself properly - £22.50 a head for unlimited trips to the buffet and as much meat as you can manage. Avoid the bread and potatoes that will try to lure you into their carbohydratey clutches, and simply don't say yes to everything the nice men bring round or you'll be full long before the fillet steak appears.
Is it the place for a quiet, romantic night out? No. Nor is suitable for vegetarians; there is a meat-free menu, but as every few minutes will see a large lump of animal on a skewer carved at a nearby table I would suggest that other restaurants might be a better choice. But it is good fun; perhaps just try to eat a little bit healthily the next day.
- Bem Brasil has branches on Deansgate and in the Northern Quarter; full details available at www.bembrasilrestaurants.com.