Cabana Brasil, Newcastle
This post is the tale of two meals at Cabana Brasil, the latest Brazilian restaurant chain to open in the Toon. Such was my eager anticipation on their opening I wrote a guide of sorts to Brazilian food, which you can read here. On our first visit to Cabana they didn’t have Vegoada, the vegan version of the Brazilian classic Feijoada, for Mr. Canny to try. We were disappointed that his only other option instead was a salad, and this marred the whole experience. While dining out as a vegan is not always an easy experience, when a restaurant features items that are suitable but not available it is flipping frustrating. This was one of a few low points during our visit, so I decided to hold off on writing a review until we returned after the eatery had a chance to ‘bed in’ after opening.
As many regular readers know, Mr. Canny is Brazilian, and around this time last year I took my first visit over to his homeland. During this holiday I was treated to some incredible local foods such as coalho, churrasco de galeto, Paõ de Queijo, amongst others. With the arrival of Viva Brazil in Newcastle, I was hopeful that these delicacies would become readily available to quell his feelings of homesickness, but unfortunately we felt it didn’t quite match the real deal. While it certainly was an improvement on its thankfully now defunct predecessor for churrasco in Newcastle – Escobar – dishes like the Feijoada weren’t up to scratch. We hoped Cabana would be different, especially as Mr. Canny would no longer be indulging in the BBQ side of the Brazilian dining experience.
Like neighbouring Turtle Bay, Cabana runs 241 on cocktails at certain times of the day. Naturally, the classic Caipirinha is on the menu, along with a myriad of other drinks. The Brazilian said they were a bit stingy with the cachaça, but he likes them strong. On our first visit they didn’t have Guarana Antarctica, one of Brazil’s biggest soft drinks. Having not drank this in over a year and expecting it to feature just in the same way an American diner would have Coca-Cola, I was disappointed. On our second visit it was thankfully in stock.
I think it is worth mentioning the high points of the visits to start with. Their pao de queijo, which is similar to an Italian doughball, are very good. We’d recently had a fairly flaccid attempt from Las Iguanas in comparison. The centre should be like biting through cheese, which it was.
On our second trip Mr. Canny finally got to try out the Vegoada (£9.95). As you’d probably expect from a restaurant which labels itself barbecue, the options for non-meat eaters are limited. He thought their version of the traditional black bean stew was good, and value for money with its portion size. The usual ingredients of beef and pork have been replaced with veggie-friendly plaintain, aubergine and peppers. Served with rice, farofa and chipsticks, its like a bowlful of home for him. A great dish for veggies and vegans to try when eating here, and much more filling than the Palm Heart salad option that was consumed in substitution. While there is, in essence, nothing wrong with their salads, when dining out you want something different to what you can eat at home. Salads are quick and simple to make, and something Mr. Canny eats for lunch nearly every day, hence his initial disappointment.
During both visits I ordered the Bahian Coconut Curry, which is vegan without the Halloumi Skewers I ordered mine with. There was no consistency with the dish, as you can see from my photos. I was told that Cabana use suppliers that work exclusively with them, but it seems a shame that they don’t cook certain dishes from scratch. It was enjoyable on both occasions, nevertheless, but you wouldn’t think it was the same menu item!
We have also managed to try out all the cake and treat options, which are excellent. A minor grumble from Mr. Canny was that the Negra Maluca wasn’t exactly how it would be in Brazil, but I’m chalking it up to the fact Cabana’s has been adapted to be gluten-free. It may not have been authentic, in his opinion, but it was delicious regardless.
Also worthy of praise is their Brasilian Candy Box. Featuring favourites such as Paçoca and Brigadeiro, I was in heaven with these little treats.
My dad dined with us on our second visit and had the Crispy Lula Rings to start. These thinly sliced battered squid pieces were light and not chewy, as squid can sometimes be. He said they were delicious, and at £5.95 it was a good value dish.
His main course of Sizzling Picanha Steak was less impressive, however. While he enjoyed the meat, I was shocked at the price and portion size. We paid an additional £2.95 for Spring Greens, while the Biro-Biro Rice which was supposed to accompany the dish failed to materialise. My dad said he probably would have found the rice accompaniment too filling and had asked for the vegetables instead. I’ll admit I didn’t realise we’d been erroneously charged for the side until I’d gotten home and checked the receipt. Mr. Canny, in his experience, feels the description of Picanha for the cut of meat my dad was served also an error on Cabana’s part. You only need to Google Picanha to see how their dish fails to live up to expectation. As a barbecue restaurant, we hope their other cuts of meat are an improvement on this sorry affair. We had recommended this to my dad as the best cut of meat and were heartily disappointed it hadn’t lived up to our own experiences in Brazil or even at Viva Brazil, for that matter.
The Teen tried out the Halloumi Burger when he dined at Cabana. He said it was dry and was in desperate need of more Chimichurri to pep it up. Topped with a Portobello Mushroom and Rio Beans, I understood what he meant when I tasted it. We asked for some mayo to add moistness to the mix, but he still wasn’t that impressed with this vegetarian option. The restaurant is all about the meat, I’m not disputing that, but veggies should also have some inspiring dishes to also chose from. Their Cassava Fries also failed to make the grade for us. At £4.45 for a bowl, they were an expensive side. It is difficult to source manioc in this country, which may account for why they were less than fresh. When this vegetable is ‘on the turn’ it can become chewy and fibrous, which is exactly what we encountered with Cabana’s version.
As a food blogger I am, on occasion, invited along to review a new restaurant and the meal is free. I assert that regardless of this, the write-up I give will be based on what we have eaten and not a PR ‘puff piece’. In these instances, I keep in the back of my mind whether I’d be happy to pay top dollar for the same food. Our first visit was fully comped, on the second we paid half. I personally feel that, depending on what you order, Cabana is expensive for a chain restaurant for the quality of food it serves up. If I’d paid over £80 for the food & drink we’d had on our second visit I’d have honestly felt cheated. I think there are some fantastic independents in Newcastle I’d have rather given the money to. The selling point of a chain is consistency, and I don’t believe Cabana offer that based on our experiences. Las Iguanas, which has a whole section of their menu devoted to Brazilian classics, offers better value for money with their Tastecard offers too.
I’ve tried to balance the positives and negatives to the best of my ability. I’d say our experience doesn’t match that of others based on posts I’ve read from local bloggers which have been full of praise for the chain. Whether that can be attributed to the fact I’ve experienced ‘the real deal’ or not is hard to say. The standout dishes for us were the Pão de queijo, the desserts and the Vegoada. We could have easily forgiven the lack of authenticity if the food Cabana served up was consistently good. We will probably return for Mr. Canny’s black bean stew – if it’s regularly available, of course! As our visits were a month apart, are these still the teething problems of a newly opened eatery? I’m not sure, but I’d suggest you pay £9.95 for their well-priced lunchtime menu Monday to Friday to find out.
Thanks for reading,