Take their cuisine. Southern Brazil has a centuries-old tradition of charcoal-grilling meat. Brazilian BBQ — churrasco — originated with gauchos grilling beef over campfire coals. This tradition thrived and spread — witness the numerous churrascarias in Ho Chi Minh City.
Opened in late 2011, Samba is staffed by Brazil-trained chefs. It’s no coincidence there was a noticeable bump during the World Cup — Samba’s raison d’etre is to enchant our inner adrenalin-junkie with as much meat as it can chew.
Though Samba has a menu, it’s the all-you-can-eat churrasco that attracts dinner crowds, according to owner Danh Phi. At VND550,000 per person, it’s best if you have an empty belly, free time, a fetish for artery-clogging and a desire to put cows on the endangered species list.
Sign up and head for the modest buffet, sampling the Parma ham, some garlic bread, potatoes au gratin (lovely sauce, sadly undercooked), Caesar salad and pumpkin soup, mixed fruits, even lasagna. The carpaccio is the high point, plated in lovely, velvety slices, lightly oiled. Mousse and other trifles are for dessert... if you have space.
Back at the table, brightly-dressed, cowboy-hatted waiters offer slicings of fresh-grilled meat right off the spit. Called espeto corrido or rodizio, this style of service is the norm for Brazilian BBQ restaurants.
The Mission is Beef
Samba avoids the major buffet sin — overextension. They’re on a mission: meat, meat and more meat, serving rump, flank, top sirloin, cheese-crusted beef, beef kebabs, beef neck, lamb shank, sausages, chicken wings and more.
The quality varies. Most beef cuts are crisply browned outside, pink and juicy inside, lightly salted, the essential flavours undisguised. The rump and cheese-crusted beef were particularly good. The rest is so-so; the sausages aren’t bad, but the lamb is a bit flavourless, as are the chicken legs. Their focus is beef, as yours should be. Sorry, vegetarians — you’re not the target market here.
Each table comes laden with sauces, like mustard, Thousand Island, French sauce au poivre and basic brown gravy.
Samba’s wine list is decent, and we tried that night’s special, a Chilean cabernet sauvignon — whose dark, chocolaty fullness and spicy finish complemented the opulence of the beef.
The décor is fine, based on low-key grey walls with soft orange lighting, though the paintings on the walls are a tad too eclectic. Everything is clean, especially the bathrooms. The background music stays where it ought to, allowing for conversation.
Service is friendly and regular, and they mean all you can eat — even if they’ve brought round your favourite dish before, merely ask and you will receive it again. And again.
As fine as these things are, they’re not why people choose Samba. They go to stuff their bellies with decent-quality beef for a not-unreasonable price, and avoid any frills — like vegetables, or good cardiovascular health. For that, Samba does the job. — Owen Salisbury
Samba Brazilian Steakhouse is at 10 Thai Van Lung, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City