I wanted a really memorable meal in Rio de Janeiro and ended up experiencing the Amazonian-ingredients centric tasting menu at Le Pre Catalan namely because it was really close to my hotel (two blocks) and I could easily get a reservation, although this was really not necessary for the time of year being mostly off-peak. In fact, there was only two other French people that were already seated when I arrived for an 8pm booking. Perhaps there were more people later, as Brazilians are well known for their late dining times. When I made the reservation at the front desk, the conversation sort went like:
Receptionist: What time would like your booking?
Me: What time do you open?
Me: Then 7:30 please
Receptionist: (raises eyebrows)
Me: Ok, make it 8pm please
Receptionist: OK (although still appearing rather non-plussed)
You enter the restaurant the easiest by catching the outside elevator just outside the Sofitel’s foyer up one floor where you are greeted and seated. The dining room is luxurious, though I noted it seemed a little bit faded – maybe that was just me. Tall ceilings and tall windows look out onto the esplanade where, at lunch, you probably get a reasonable view of the ocean. Upon seating, I’m immediately brought some garlic, herbed crisp bread as well as a pot of olive oil and butter for the bread to go later.
I’m also offered an impressive selection of bread. Bread with hazelnut. Whole-grained bread. Sultana. French bread. One that, I’m sure lost in translation, apparently liver bread but tasted a bit more light a sourdough. The butter was fantastic – soft, creamy, more importantly tasty and the oils were infused with some sort of herbs. Yum.
I was offered two menus. The seasonal menu was a playful one from the chef. Closed, you have a menu that reads like a meal backwards starting from coffee, dessert, mains, and appetisers. When opened, the menu expands into an interesting, playful menu. You can also order a la carte, or have the Amazonian menu which is what I was here to have. They reset the cutlery, and I have never seen so many pieces of silverware on the table at one time.
The first dishes were Tucunare fish brandade on coconut milk, Biju roll made of tapioca and stuffed with baby lobster and fresh Palm Cabbage and pepper jelly. The jelly was strangely sweet, and the palm cabbage much sweeter than what I was expecting. The fish was amazingly light, and almost tasted like the fresh ocean.
The next course was the Crab pastry with Bacuri chutney, tapioca Sagu pearls marinated with Caipirinha and açaí vinagrette. The crab had a very strong flavour, and the salad dressing surprisingly tart – maybe that was from the “caipirinha” soaking. The topica was expectedly chewy, much like you might expect in bubble tea.
The next course was a fish course, Pirarucu Fish in Caju crost and Tucupi and Jambu consomé. This was probably one of the best dishes. The fish had a very meaty texture, light, firm but also flavoursome. They poured a broth in and it was very salt and the caju fruit nestled in there. I’m not really sure what the fruit flesh really looks like but it reminded me of spinach in there.
And after they poured the broth in table-side.
They brought out a “Murici” sorbet, where the Amazonian fruit tastes a lot like cheese. Imagine a light sorbet that tastes a bit like parmesan and it was pretty bang on. Refreshing, but strange at the same time. One weird point here was they served the sorbet while I was still nowhere near finishing my fish. The only sore point of service for the entire night.
The next course was Moqueca Blinis and grilled shrimps with Brazillian nut cream. A rather large prawn, beautifully cooked and still super sweet that sat on top of a tart tomato compote that balanced the dish very well. Tapioca powder, some sort of cream and a grilled cake finished off the other textures.
Next, another fish dish Tambaqui Cutlet with smoked baroa potato mousse, with a herb sauce. The fish was meaty, and must have been very large with some of the bones in the fillet being quite massive. The potato mousse, on the other hand, reminded me of a cheese-and-bacon-ball type flavour. Super creamy. Super smoky to the point where it almost, but not quite, overpowered the fish element. This was definitely a flavour sensation and one that I wanted to linger for much of the evening.
And another view.
After the fish dish, they served another palette cleanser, a Caju granité. Sweet, and light, it tasted almost to me like a different lychee.
The next dish, Ox cutlet confit, crumbed with manioc flour, Jabuticaba sauce, banane marmelade with vegetables and bacon was full of strong flavours. The manioc flour, though very Amazonian, didn’t really do much for the croquette since it didn’t seem to be crispy enough. The oxtail, flavoursome and rich wasn’t as soft as I was hoping and I found myself needing to chew this a lot more. Probably a good candidate for some sous vede before the crumbing and frying part. A clever dish, but let down a little in execution. Still amazingly tasty.
From the side angle.
I was pretty much ready for dessert after all this food. In fact, I was probably ready for some sleep at this point. Nevertheless there was more, and what arrived was a Chocolat and coconut cream surprise, Amazonian fruits ice cream: Açaí, Cupuaçu and Taperebá. The “surprise” was actually a giant-sized macaroon filled with a coconut ice cream. The other ice creams proved lush as well, sweet, tart and creamy all very well balanced. Quite a generous serve as well.
You can see just how big that macaroon was (probably double sized).
Finally I had an espresso, and the petite fours (for two!) arrived. I only had a couple as I was seriously full at this stage.
They had two surprises for me at the end of the evening. One was this beautifully wrapped box of macaroons that I could take home, also being asked to give some customer feedback. The other was a physical copy of the Amazonian banquet menu that I just consumed so that I could write up and remember what I had.
Although this isn’t the sort of meal you have every night, it is one that, I think, is worth venturing for a special occasion or at least save up some of your dining budget for a special night out.
Name: Le Pre Catalan
Found at: Sofitel, Ave Atlantica, 4240, Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil