In a city like Rio de Janeiro, where one is often told to ‘be vigilant’ when it comes to looking after your own safety, it’s refreshing to visit a part of the city that feels like more of a safe haven. I’m by no means encouraging anyone to drop their guard, as unfortunately crime levels in Rio are high, but the affluent crowd of both locals and tourists that populate the streets of Leblon give the feeling of being in a smart district of West London. For those looking for a more ‘traditional’ take on Brazil, this isn’t the area for you, however the smart restaurants, plush cocktail bars and cute gelaterias that line its streets will reassure any visitor that Rio can offer hospitality like any other renowned global city.
Zuka is somewhat of an institution in Leblon, having been there since 2002, the restaurant offers a selection of Brazilian charcoal grill dishes including chorizo beef and honey glazed duck breast. Zuka is ideal for those who want to experience Brazilian cuisine at its finest.
Wood is the material of choice in decor here, with a striking sloped wooden ceiling being the focal point at the front of the restaurant, also seen from the outside. The exterior is neat and unassuming, but in the interior creates notions of grandeur and class. The sunken bar adds to this feeling, with seats available to those who want to be at the forefront of the action.
Once seated, we’re quickly brought a tray of crispy bread with a selection of dips. We’re also brought what seems to be some sort of mushroom soup in a shot glass (!) – perhaps we should have been more inquisitive about its meaning of existence, but it wasn’t for us! The menu is varied and appetising, but, given South America’s reputation for quality beef, we opt for the sirloin steak to share. We were not disappointed…
A stunning cut of meat, the tender piece of steak (at 600g) is served with mashed potatoes with truffled egg, and a helping of farofa. The creamy potatoes are silky and morish, with the raw truffled egg providing even more irresistible flavour. The farofa (a mixture of crushed Brazilian nuts) gives texture to the dish, cutting through the soft mash with its extra crunch. But none of this can distract from the main event. The steak is enough to rival the likes of Hawksmoor (sorry, I said it!) and is undoubtedly some of he best I’ve tried. The super-sized dish is enough to share for two, and at R$159 (roughly £40), it’s an absolute bargain.
Service is excellent, with waiters speaking enough English to communicate effectively, but not too much for you to think you’re in a tourist trap. We opted for a carafe (500g) of Chilean wine, which was delicious and accompanied the meal excellently. As a note, wine is comparatively (and surprisingly) expensive in Brazil (something we found across the continent actually), so better to stick to spirits if you’re budget conscious.
Marrying luxe and laid-back all in one, Zuka is a top notch dining experience and a must-visit for anyone visiting Rio.
Rua Dias Ferreira, 233B
Rio de Janeiro – RJ