In Vietnam, a country famed for its roaring street food scene, your options for barbequed meat are pretty endless. Drive down any main street and you’re bound to see a lady fanning meat over white hot charcoals, or groups huddled around Vietnam’s famed ‘street barbecues’ cooking pork ribs and strips of sweet potato.
But sometimes, and particularly during the winter months, it’s nice to trade the little blue stools for a padded chair, and the ambiguous looking meat for recognisable New Zealand sirloin.
Au Lac Do Brazil may not be a new entry to Hanoi’s meat market, but eight years after opening the only churrascaria in the capital, diners are still attracted to it for its lively atmosphere, festive dining halls and authentic churrasco experience.
For those who have no idea, churrascaria is the Brazilian word for a restaurant that typically serves grilled meat; typically many different variations of meat, and typically all-you-can-eat. After the meat is grilled on a churrasquierras (barbecue), it is served espeto corrido style; that is, brought to your table on a giant skewer by a passador (waiter) and sliced directly onto your plate. Pretty exciting stuff.
Down on Cao Ba Quat, Au Lac Do does pretty much that. The whole operation is housed in a giant yellow and green, double-storey restaurant with Brazilian paraphernalia as far as the eye can see. Some would call it tacky. I call it fun.
The real bread and butter of this operation is the buffet, which is offered in a pared back option or the full churrasco for VND650,000 per person. This entitles you to the whole gamut of salads and vegetables and a suite of barbecued meats, including Calabrian sausage, Brazilian picanha steak, leg of lamb, chicken wings, cupim beef shoulder, pork ribs and barbecued shrimp wrapped in bacon.
A Fine Cut
We began with a plate of tasty garden salad drizzled with a light dressing, some garlic bread and a strong caipirinha (VND105,000) — the Brazilian national drink incorporating rum, fresh lime, raw sugar and cachaca. Within minutes, a smiling waiter appeared at our table with the first course — a giant skewer of sizzling pichana steaks. With a sharp blade, he proceeded to shear generous slabs onto our plates, filling our nostrils with the rich aroma of barbecued steak. Each mouthful was succulent and carried an extremely rich, smoky flavour that only hours of roasting can achieve.
Next was the beef shoulder, carefully wood-fired for four hours before being carried straight from the grill to our plates. The meat was nicely well done without being dry, while the accompanying chimichurri sauce helped to balance the beef’s rich, salty flavours.
The lamb that followed had a similarly rich taste. Having been slow-cooked for hours, it had developed a beautifully golden crust, while the slightly pink flesh on the inside carried the delicious flavours of wood-fire and rosemary.
In the following 10 minutes, our attentive passadors served us chicken wings, marinated pork ribs, Brazilian calabrian sausage and succulent prawns wrapped in crisp, salty bacon. After a few minutes of reprieve we succumbed to a final serving of barbecued pineapple, dished up warm with a delicious caramelised crust, before tucking into cups of light and fluffy passion fruit mousse.
The atmosphere was somewhat lacking on the day we arrived, but we had missed the lunchtime rush so the crowd had begun to wane. This perhaps had the benefit of ensuring that the staff weren’t as run off their feet and were able to dish out the meat even faster (in fact, faster than we could eat it).
Yes, the street barbeque will always be cheaper and perhaps livelier (I mean, what can substitute for the thrill of passing motorbikes splashing rainwater onto your sizzling steak?). But if you’re after quality meat and value in a fun setting, Au Lac Do provides a compelling way to spice up your Friday night.
Au Lac Do Brazil is at 6A Cao Ba Quat, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals