Close to the leafy open space that is Parsons Green sits a cafe and delicatessen called Empório São Paulo owned by Carminha de Castro. I had been invited, along with Hot & Chilli, Gourmet Chick, Greedy Diva and The London Foodie, to a bloggers night recently to visit and try their food. I had looked up their website before my visit and to my surprise, there were few (if any) Brazilian dishes on their online menu; apart from being owned by a Brazilian, it wasn’t clear yet to me what differentiated this cafe from any other cafe in London. A look at The London Foodie’s previous post on Empório São Paulo did confirm that Brazilian food was served, which just added to my confusion. What was Empório São Paulo?
Carminha answered all my questions that night. Her vision for Empório São Paulo was as a cafe that you’d find in any major city in Brazil; she wants to change poeple’s perception of Brazil and remind them that ciites such as São Paulo (her own beloved city) are very modern and cosmopolitan. And like the cafes you’d find there, Empório São Paulo sells quite a mix of things – Italian coffees, organic baby food, ingredients and products from around the world, sandwiches, salads, cakes, and yes, Brazilian products and dishes too. Most of the food served at the cafe is outsourced and they always try to find the best. I received a little tour of the place from Gizane of Branding Latin America. While there’s a little eating area on the ground floor and outside, there’s also a family playroom downstairs, a space that will also be used for events in the future.
But now onto the food. We started with snacks of mini empadas de frango, little chicken pies, …
… and mini coxinhas, fried pastries made of potato mash filled with chicken and shaped to resemble chicken drumsticks. Both delicious and normally served at the cafe.
We were also plied with many caipirinhas (well, not me – I don’t like alcohol) and also got a lesson on making the perfect caipirinha from Steve of Salto Brazil. Though I don’t drink much, it was interesting to learn the difference between traditional cachaça and newer varieties that more resemble vodka.
We moved further inside the shop where a table was laid for dinner. Wines were provided by Go Brazil Wines, with its founder Nicholas there to represent them (details of the wines served can be found here). We started with a small portion of feijoada, the classic pork and black bean stew of Brazil – it’s only served on weekends in Emporio São Paulo, a practice that reflects way it’s treated in Brazil, as a big weekend meal. It was quite tasty with its sprinkling of nutty farofa on top and I could have eaten a full portion of it!
Our main course was a moqueca de peixe e camarao, a traditional Brazilian stew of fish and prawns. This was a moqueca capixaba, made with olive oil, onions and tomatoes, and is light and quite healthy; this is in contrast to a moqueca baiana, where palm oil is the cooking fat used and coconut milk is also added. Again, this is served on the weekends and also costs £7.50. We also had a small portion of a butternut squash puree alongside. Carminha had trouble sourcing a good moqueca and in the end found the source in her own daughter!
That wasn’t all – after we cleared our plates, Carminha brought out baskets of hot mini pão de queijo which were absolutely gorgeous. Hot, chewy and cheesy, they must be one of the world’s ultimate snacks – their distinctive chewiness is from manioc flour. These can be bought frozen (it has its own freezer!) or cooked and hot in the shop.
Dessert time! A huge cake stand of the most beautiful white brigadeiros was brought out – there was one with passionfruit and coconut, another with pistachio, and a final with a surprise filling of a whole fresh grape. This last was my favourite as the tang of the grape cut through the rich sweetness of the white chocolate and condensed milk. I brought a few back for Blai and before I had even blinked, he had scoffed the balls and was to be expected, he was most enthusiastic about them!
The more traditional brigadeiro is made with regular chocolate and we tried a modern presentation of this: apparently brigadeiros in little cups like these are quite the thing in Brazil today. I was also told quite definitively that it just isn’t a party in Brazil without brigadeiros! Well, they certainly made this party.
Thank you again to Carminha and also to Gizane of Branding Latin America for the invitation. It was a great introduction to modern Brazilian food.
Empório São Paulo
197 New Kings Road
London SQ6 4SR