Why can't I find a good churrascaria in the UK?

Churrascarias work so well in Brazil and the USA but somehow this unique kind of restaurant simply does not seem to catch on in the UK. Why? First, a very big disclaimer: I have not been to every churrascaria in the UK. So this is a general impression gathered from visiting only some 9 or 10, and only in London. So if you own a churrascaria and I have not reviewed your place, don't worry, if yours turns out to the rare exception, I will shout it from the rooftops.

What are Churrascarias?

In simple translation 'churrasco' is a barbecue. So a churrascaria is a 'Barbeque-ry', a grill house. But they are oh so much more than a grill house. They are temples devoted to meat with a very peculiar serving mechanism. Most Churrascarias boast a very wide grill with 2 rows of rotating spikes laden with every kind of beef one can imagine. Waiters pass by the grill, grab a whole spike, a small plate to collect any dripping juices and a machete-sized sized knife and then bring the spike to your table where they will slice the meet directly onto your plate. A good waiter (also known as the Passador) will follow your exacting instructions on how you'd like them to cut your churrasco: Thin slices, thick slices, with or without fat, well done or rate, etc.

There's no limit to the imagination of the churrascaria chef when it comes to what one might find on the spike. From prime cuts of beef to crocodile meat or grilled cheese! Some of the most prized beef cuts are: Alcatra (sirloin), Picanha (prime rump steak), Maminha (stripsteak), Costela (ribs).

The cassino of the restaurant world

Like a cassino, the secret of a Churrascaria's financial success depends on maths and crowd control. Typical churrascarias server more than 1,000 covers per meal. These are huge, noisy restaurants, where families, friends or work colleagues host big reunions. Service is usually very fast and waiters are usually very efficient. They're also extremely good with children. Everything is geared towards getting you to consume a huge amount in a very short time. Once you're full, there's no way you'll be wanting to stay in this noisy environment for long. The food is top class and of huge variety, but even if you're a seasoned Churrascaria vulture like me, you'll never manage to break the bank. The house always wins!

It's easy to see why the formula would achieve similar results in the USA, and if fact there are a few chains of Churrascarias making a roaring trade there, in particular Fogo do Chão, with almost 20 houses all over North America.

A tall order

Unfortunately the concept just does not translate to the UK. The beef is too costly, the real estate square footage is astronomical and there simple aren't the types of life-long professional waiters over here. But that has not stopped a few intrepid restauranteurs from trying to adapt it to a smaller scale. It simply does not work. The food variety has to be scaled down, the staff per customer ratio is way lower and the houses are tiny (with the possible exception of Rodízio Rico at the O2). That usual symtoms are: overcooked and tough meat, waiters who are too keen on giving you a huge chunk at a time, tired accompaniments and inconsistent service.

Some of the houses still manage to impress the locals who have never been at a proper churrascaria but most do nothing but annoy the usual Brazilian abroad.

I will be spending most of this summer going through as many houses as I can and trying to find one I'm mildly happy with. But in the meantime, here's a short list for you to try.

London Churrascarias:

London (UK)

Amber Grill Rodizio 47 Station Road, Willesden Junction, London NW10 4UP Tel. 020 8963 1588

Braseiro 256 High Road, London NW10 2EY Tel. 020 8451 8902

Nabrasa 505 Garratt Lane, London SW18 4SW Tel. 020 8871 3875

Buffet Brazil Putney Bridge 26 Putney High Street, London SW15 1SL Tel. 020 8780 1750

La Carrilera 160 High Road, London N15 4NU

La Pampa Grill 4 Northcote Road, London, SW11 1EH Tel. 020 7924 1167

Rodízio Preto  Victoria 72-73 Wilton Road, London SW1V 1DE Tel. 020 7233 8668

Rodízio Preto Putney 31-33 Putney High Street, London SW15 1SP Tel. 020 8788  4388

Rodízio Rico Bayswater 111 Westbourne Grove, London W2 4UW Tel. 020 7792 4035

Rodízio Rico Islington 77-78 Upper Street London N1 0NU Tel. 020 7359 8059

Rodízio Rico O2 The O2 shopping area, Millenium Way, London SE10 0DX Tel. 020 8858 6333

Further reading

- Check out the Churrascaria Review from JungleDrum.

Rodizio Brazil - Good small bbq restaurant, or just a lot of bull? (Review)

Escondidinho de Carne Seca - Beef Jerky Surprise