Two months ago I bought my first flat with my boyfriend. As one might expect, we are both incredibly excited and Jack has spent hours scouring his favourite design blogs for inspiration. We are almost on the same page. I say almost because, although I have salivated over the pictures, he has disagreed with me on a couple of my finds.
Brazil was a haven for inspiration. Beautiful Mediterranean style tiles adorned the walls and floors of bars, cafes and restaurants and bright and pastel eye catching colours were dotted all around the city.
The destination of our final lunch in the sprawling city was no exception. Mani is housed in what seemed to be an old barn, although the old oak beams were most probably there for the effect. The long walkway was covered with intertwined bamboo and a beautiful terrace sat at the back of the restaurant.
We were the first to arrive dead on midday and took the opportunity to snap the surroundings before fellow diners arrived to fill the whole restaurant. When I arrived back in the UK, I showed Jack an image – a pastel blue table surrounded by white chairs and decorated with flowers in delicate glass bottles. As I dined, I imagined this table and chairs sat in my brand new kitchen. But alas no, I was silenced when Jack proclaimed that this is what he wanted for our beach house. The annoying thing? I agreed with him. Even though we are probably twenty years away from even considering a beach house.
But it wasn’t just the interior of Mani that caught my imagination, it was the food I ate during the twelve course tasting menu. Not realising lunch would be so early, I helped myself to large helpings of Japanese rice and fruit at the breakfast buffet and let out a small wimper when we were bundled into the van for lunch straight after. Luckily, I have a strong stomach that can withstand copius amounts of food and by the time we arrived at lunch I was almost ready.
Mani is a restaurant that I was greatly looking forward to. Helena Rizzo and husband Daniel Redondo established Mani in 2006, which has gone from strength to strength in the last few years, currently nestled at number 51 on the World’s 50 Best list by Restaurant magazine. Rizzo is the talk of the Sao Paulo restaurant scene and is a favourite of Brazilian culinary star like Alex Atala of D.O.M. And if this wasn’t enough to give me an impression that Mani is special, a fellow journalist on our trip, who in her words ‘played truent’ for most of the five days, wanted to join us for lunch on our last day.
It didn’t take long to realise that Rizzo is a master of flavour and texture combinations. Each dish was delicate and light yet packed with flavour. Highlights were a trio of tomato consome, foie gras bombom and potato chip with roast beef and a bowl of cassava gnocchi with dashi. Each square of gnocchi was adorned with a different morsel of herb. Upon my first cube lay what I began to call a numbing herb and as the soft gnocchi literally melted away on my tongue, the powerful contrast of the herb that numbed my tongue in tandem was a pleasant surprise and one I won’t forget in a hurry.
Other favourites were the bright purple display of beetroot slices with sesame, tonka bean and beetroot sorbet and ‘Feijoada’, Mani’s take on the popular Brazilian feijoada – balls of pork that when I pushed against the roof of my mouth popped to reveal a thin liquid. Feijoada is the equivalent of our Sunday roast – Brazilians love to eat the famous bean dish on Sundays with a topping of toasted manioc flour, or farofa as it is well known. The dish presented to me at Mani was so different in appearance and texture to the buffet I had helped myself to on the Sunday but similar in flavour. A cleaver dish that shows Rizzo’s creativity.
The dessert was also memorable, if not just for the presentation. Cubes of mandarin jelly nestled in a nest with nut brittle with a smooth and creamy ice cream. Almost picture perfect, it took a few seconds for me to allow myself to destroy the art work.
Our lunch lasted a good couple of hours and once again we were the first in and last out. Rizzo emerged from the kitchen after service and I caught myself staring in awe of this beautiful model turned chef. As she talked, her youthful smile lit up our table and I felt a wave of inspiration surge over me.
Mani was a magical experience and as I can’t just pop by now and again, one that I will repeat over and over in my memory for years to come.
Rua Joaquim Antunes
210 Jardim Paulistano
(11) 3085-4148 / (11) 3062-7458
Food for Think was a guest of Embratur