Doug Gray, The Daily Telegraph, April 8, 2014
Rio de Janeiro may have smartened up significantly in preparation for this summer's World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, but it remains an essentially relaxed city at heart. While the city is, as yet, without its own Michelin-starred restaurant, it does feature an abundance of exceptional eateries, the best of which are highlighted here.
Téreze, Santa Teresa
The Hotel Santa Teresa’s exclusive hillside restaurant, Térèze, is comfortably the neighbourhood’s most upmarket dining experience. This being Rio, that doesn’t mean it isn’t also wonderfully casual, and indeed tropical. Arrive at sunset for a drink on the terrace with a palm tree-framed view out towards Guanabara Bay, the heaving city below seemingly a million miles away. Portions are small, but that merely allows for more courses to be devoured. The tiger prawn cocktail, perfectly cooked lamb and some beautifully presented desserts dazzle the senses, all backed up with charming, friendly and well-informed service.
Aprazivel, Santa Teresa
High up on the Santa Teresa hillside, Aprazivel spreads out across a wonderfully rustic terrace offering couples romantic nooks and larger groups a crowd-pleasing and original setting to dine in. On a balmy evening, request one of the tables outside or call ahead and hope that the group table, set in what can best be described as a tree house, is available. Order carefully, for while the lamb shank is excellent, the chicken ‘galinhada’ is less enticing, but there are several good fish options, not least the seasonal ‘moqueca’ stew. Like the food, the wine list is almost entirely Brazilian, providing a good opportunity to sample the fruits of the southern states.
The most authentic Japanese restaurant in the city, Azumi is tucked away on a quiet Copacabana street from where it serves up exceptional, award-winning sushi. The combos are a lesson in the simple pleasures of the ocean, but the main courses prove there is much more to the country’s cooking than simply raw fish. There is no better way to start proceedings than with a bowl of edamame beans and ice-cold sake, and even as a bona-fide sushi lover I find it hard to resist the ika sautée, combining tender, spicy squid with mushrooms and crisp, stir-fried vegetables. Larger groups should call ahead to book one of two screened-off tables where the floor-cushion seating all adds to the ambience. The restaurant has no website but you'll find it at 127 Rua Ministro Viveiros de Castro.
Casa da Suiça, Glória
It may not be the first thing on many people’s lists when they think of Rio, but when the sun isn’t beating down and the long sleeves come out, it is fondue time. A perennial favourite of the state’s cooler hillside towns, there is only one worth knowing in the capital and its location says everything about its authenticity. Deep inside the Swiss consulate in Glória, Casa da Suiça recreates a little European elegance, where bratwurst, steak tartare and some inventive seasonal menus vie for attention with the cheese, meat and seafood fondues. Despite the auspicious location, caution is advised when wandering the neighbourhood after dark.
Irajá Gastrô, Humaitá
Partly responsible for turning the north end of Humaitá into a new gastro-hub for the city, Irajá Gastro ’s modern approach both in and out of the kitchen made the rest of Rio’s contemporary restaurants take note. The unusual twists on Brazilian classics are the standout dishes, be it the manioc chips with parmesan and liquefied butter or the pork ribs with a chic version of the classic bean-and-bacon tropeiro. The menu is ever-changing, but the hot brigadeiro chocolate cake is a dependable mainstay, and the cocktail menu is always worth exploring. The gin, wasabi and coconut water Tropicalista and the passion fruit Mojito aren’t easily forgotten.
Le Pré Catalan, Copacabana
With the award-winning chef Roland Villard at the helm, dining at the Sofitel transcends the concept of a hotel restaurant, serving up contemporary, French-inspired Brazilian menus that play with the senses. Take the quail, wild mushroom and foie gras-stuffed rigatoni starter for example, or head to his famous ‘Trilogies’, where snails and shellfish are given three exquisite treatments. Seafood is the house speciality, but several tasting menus are also available in which Villard’s creativity with classic Brazilian ingredients is put firmly on display. The window tables give a fine view out along Copacabana Beach.
Carioca chef Claude Troisgros’ flagship restaurant by the Lagoa still gets people cooing at the mere mention of its name. Celebrating three decades of fine French cuisine in 2013 with a discreet facelift, Olympe remains the city’s number one European dining experience. Opt for the chef’s tasting menu and let five of the day’s imaginative Brazilian updates of European classics arrive unhurried to the table, with optional (and highly recommended) wine harmonising for R$130 extra. The à la carte menu is no less appealing, though, with foie gras, seafood and beef all featuring in grand style, but the lamb cannelloni with truffle consommé is hard to top.
The famous swimming pool of the Copacabana Palace hotel is the backdrop for Pérgula, a light and airy restaurant that almost spreads itself out among the sun loungers. Like in all good poolside restaurants, the club sandwich comes stacked high, salads are plentiful and an eclectic list of starters includes nachos, shrimp tempura and oysters. Come Sunday, however, the restaurant is devoted solely to the art of brunch, an all-you-can-eat buffet of caviars, seafood, pasta, salads and breads, accompanied by a bottomless glass of prosecco.
Shin Miura, Centro
A touch of Tokyo can be found on the third floor of the electronics mall Edificio Avenida Central in downtown Rio, towering over Carioca Metrô station. From the sushi bar inside Shin Miura, the noted chef Nao Hara conjures up imaginative and exotic combinations for the lucky fifteen or so patrons granted an audience with him and his team at any one time. Smaller appetites can battle it out for an equally sought-after table, but even though it is only open at lunchtime, the never-ending, always changing chef’s menu comes highly recommended. Warm lobster sashimi straight from the shell, foie gras resting atop delicate towers of tuna and juicy scallops dazzle the eyes as well as the tastebuds, served straight onto the marble worktop from the hands of a master.
Sushi Leblon, Leblon
Sushi Leblon is the most stylish contemporary Japanese restaurant in town – the sharply-attired line patiently awaiting a table most nights of the week says it all. The quality of the service may never hit the heights of the food, so it is best to just sink back and let the experience wash over. Start with a bowl of edamame and an ice-cold Bohemia beer while you study of the extensive (English and Portuguese) menu. The simple salmon sashimi is out of this world, but more exotic combinations include sea urchin, snook and eel.
Restaurants may come and go along Leblon’s sought-after Rua Dias Ferreira, but thankfully Zuka and its signature charcoal grill look like they are here to stay. More exotic dishes such as the Thai fish wrapped in a banana leaf and meaty namorado (Brazilian sand perch) in a foie gras sauce are offered alongside dependable regulars like the house burger and lamb. It is always worth asking for the daily specials, and the wine list is comprehensive. Though the restaurant is a favourite for lunching ladies, it is after dark that the true charms of this contemporary dazzler come to the fore.
These recommendations, and hundreds more, can be found in the free Telegraph Travel Guides app . The app features expert guides to destinations including Paris, Rome, Rio, New York, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro, with Edinburgh, Barcelona and Venice among those to be added in the coming weeks