Tamsin Wressell has a Brazilian feast with a local couple in the neighbourhood of Lapa
“This is one of my favourite views of Rio,” Fred smiles, as he slides a caipirinha cocktail across the table to me. “This big mix of architecture through the years, it’s crazy, you know — just like the rest of my city.” Through the open shutters, the glassless windows offer views out across the bohemian district of Lapa. Fred’s flat is situated just around the corner from the world-famous tiled staircase Escadaria Selaron. In front of us is a timeworn 300-year-old house I recognise from old paintings of the city. Conical Rio de Janeiro Cathedral imposes on the next street, while a 19th-century warehouse is wedged in to its left. As I point out buildings scattered across the view, Fred has a story for each one, some historical, others local anecdotes.
“See this hotel front here?” says Fred, pointing to a gleaming white building. “There’s actually nothing behind it — it’s just a façade. A lot of Rio is like that at the minute. We’re in this big rush to get everything ready for the Olympics.”
Fred moved here from Paris 20 years ago, but knows the city like he was born here.
He and his partner, Oti, have invited us to their flat to get a taste of Rio with a five-course evening meal and stack of caipirinhas (the national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime). Through the shutters, Fred points out the walk we’ve just taken on our pre-dinner tour. Weaving through street parties and bars spilling out onto pavements, we’d stopped off at Bar de Cachaça (a pavement bar known for its range of the local tipple) to try Fred’s favourite shot — ginger mixed with cachaça.
I soon smell a delicious mix of coconut and spices coming from the kitchen. After training as a professional chef in Italy for six years, Oti moved to Rio around the same time as Fred. They opened up their dining room as a small restaurant six months ago, and have been inviting travellers in to share food ever since. Oti does the cooking, mixing flavours from his childhood into traditional Brazilian dishes using only local ingredients, while Fred looks after the decorative details and is in charge of the shopping list — getting up at 4.30am to get the best of the latest catch at the fish market.
I eye up the five-course menu for the evening, written up on the chalkboard. Fish takes the lead role, starring in three courses. Our appetiser of sardines with freshly baked bread and homemade rosemary butter vindicates Fred’s determination to get the freshest ingredients at the market — it’s delicious. A slightly spicy pineapple, red pepper and harissa cold soup refreshes the palate before we move on to a creamy escondidinho (baroa potatoes with codfish). The next dish fills the room with the fragrance of coconut — moqueca, a fish stew with shrimps that packs a punch: hints of coriander and paprika run through the light coconut milk-based sauce. A guava soufflé with cream cheese marks the end of the carousel of dishes, before we finish our meal with a homemade pineapple tea, a natural digestif, followed by a final shot of cachaça — from a bottle Fred and Oti have been saving for such an occasion. As we leave, we’re promised an emailed list of Brazilian musicians and recommendations for where to visit on our next trip to Rio to get the best views of the city. Taking a final look over Lapa sprawled out below through the shutters, I can’t imagine a view that gives a better insight into a city.
Fred and Oti’s ‘O apê da lapa’ is bookable via Vizeat for €35 (£28)pp.