When a new restaurant opens in Cardiff, it invariably attracts a rush of people.
But the demand isn’t usually as high as it has been for Viva Brazil, which opened last year below the Maldron Hotel in the city centre.
Part of the attraction is that the churrascaria, or Brazilian steakhouse, is quite different from the norm.
I booked a table for two on a Tuesday night and arrived to find the restaurant packed-out.
We were shown to our table and given a brief explanation of how it all works.
Basically, each diner is given a coaster-sized disc that is green on one side, red on the other.
You go and help yourself to food from the “salad island” in the centre of the restaurant and then turn the disc to red or green, depending on whether you want the attention of the passing “passadores” or not.
Now, the passadores are waiters who walk around the restaurant with a selection of meats on big skewers.
If you want some meat, they cut off a slice and you grab it with a mini pair of tongs supplied to you at the table.
It might sound complicated, but my guest and I soon got the hang of it.
So much so that it became quite difficult to say no to the juicy steaks, spiced chicken legs, sausages – and even a pineapple – that kept wafting past.
And while the passadores (some of whom were distinctly dishy) got more than their fair share of attention, the offerings at the salad bar were actually a surprise favourite for me.
Clearly, we’re not talking here about a few wilted pieces of lettuce and some boiled rice.
Among the huge selection of dishes were delicious rice and beans, buttery sweetcorn and peas, herby carrots, rich and creamy potato salads, garlicky mushrooms and an incredible chicken salad made with sultanas and matchstick potato crisps that I could have eaten all night.
A cauldron of Feijoada – smoked pork and black bean stew – lay alongside four different types of cheese, which in turn were next to a tray of crispy deep-fried bananas.
With the passadores winding their way around the packed tables and couples, families and work parties making multiple trips back and forth to the salad island, the atmosphere was lively but – surprisingly – it didn’t feel that cramped.
The restaurant itself was cosy and clean with lowlighting, exceedingly friendly and helpful staff and a sophisticated bar at which we could wait to be seated in style.
At £23 a head, I found the cost a bit too much for what is essentially a posh all-you-can-eat.
But it is different and it is fun, and that’s what will keep diners flocking here for some time yet.
The best of what we ate at £23 a head
Salpicao de frango – chicken salad made with sultanas, onions, garlic, sweetcorn, grated carrots, chillies, capers, spring onions and mayonnaise, topped with matchstick potatoes
Feijoada – A stew made of smoked pork and black beans
Cogumelos ao alho e oleo – Sautéed mushrooms in olive oil, garlic and chillies
Aborora com cebola e manteiga – pumpkin cooked in butter, onions and sugar
Linguica de porco – Brazilian pork sausage
Coxa de dfrango – chicken legs
What we drank:
Tarquino Shiraz-Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2010 – £17.50
Total bill: £63.50
Viva Brazil, St Mary Street, Cardiff. Telephone: 029 2022 0255