Visiting Brazil is on my bucket list. But to date, the closest I‘ve got to this colourful South American country is, well, my home in sunny Singapore. I cheered on the football teams at the 2014 FIFA World Cup on the telly and occasionally shaked to the rhythms of an upbeat samba while whisking something in the kitchen. Planning the trip of my lifetime came at a cost, but I know that come next year, I’ll be spinning a cartwheel on the lawns of the Estádio do Maracanã and dancing to real street-side samba.
I’ve recently learned that São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan. Both cultures came together and birthed Nipo-Brasileiro, or Brazilian-Japanese, food. This is a cuisine that celebrates the long heritage of the Japanese who migrated to Brazil and is the main inspiration of modern Hong Kong boteco Uma Nota. Before my meal here, I was daydreaming of feijoada and cachaca – with a hint of teriyaki sauce and sake.
We started our meal with a variety of Brazilian cocktails. Like a typical Southeast Asian, I’ve always loved beginning my meal with something a little sour to whet my appetite. I opted for the Saudade Sour ($100), which supposedly describes the feeling of longing or nostalgia. It was concocted with vanilla-infused Germana cachaca, Amaro Montenegro, guava nectar, lemon and egg white. The cocktail had just a hint of sourness, but it tasted refreshing and could almost have passed for a palate cleanser.
Next came the avocado salad ($80), made with avocado, roasted tomato, onion, baby corn and rocket leaves and drizzled with a sweet green chilli dressing. I’ve had each element before separately, and they already tasted great as is. But toss them all in a bowl and a new flavour emerged with each bite, with earthy notes, smoky hints and an ever so slight tang. By the time I had my second helping, I was ready to samba.
The scallops tiradito ($130) is one of the restaurant’s recommended dishes. The thinly sliced raw scallops were doused with a sauce made with coconut milk, orange juice, coriander and mint. I loved the scallops in this Brazilian version of a sashimi dish, but I wished that the kitchen had been a little less generous with the coconut milk. For my second serving, I drained as much of the milk as possible. And, this time, I loved it.
The tuna picadito ($130) arrived, looking like a pretty party canapé. Raw tuna was mixed with sriracha and sweet chilli sauces and spooned onto deep-fried tortillas. There wasn’t any heat with these tropical nachos, but the chilli-flavoured tuna and tortilla crisps complemented each other well. The taste reminded me of one of my junk food weaknesses: sweet-chilli-flavoured crisps.
The porco crocante ($85) came next, slices of crackling pork belly doused in a spicy tonkatsu sauce. The skin was beautifully crispy, but the meat was a bit dry. The sauce did little to help, but it did provide a unique Japanese flavour to the pork.
Fortunately, the warm morning glory salad ($80) didn’t disappoint. This vegetables also contained aji amarillo (a yellow pepper commonly found in Peru) and fish sauce and was scattered with cashews. Each forkful of greens had a lovely crunch, and there was surprisingly no wafts of pungent fish sauce. It looked like a simply assembled dish, but the leaves was gloriously savoury. I would order this any time and pair it with a bowl of white rice.
Our next meat dish was a plate of grilled chicken skewers ($80). The plump pieces of chicken were tender and juicy on their own. I dipped a piece into the accompanying smoky chipotle sauce and it was a perfect mouthful. This was recommended to our table of four, but I’d suggest ordering two portions so that each diner can relish a stick to him/herself.
The berinjela ($190) looked interesting – two half-aubergine boats with miso sauce, crumbs of goat’s cheese and bits of cashews and topped with greens. I’m not normally a fan of aubergine (the slimy texture used to make me gag as a kid), but I decided that it was time to give it another go. The first bite surprised me. The sharpness of the goat’s cheese, the crunch of the nuts and the miso dressing allowed me to overlook the texture and instead concentrate on the combination of flavours.
They set down the pot of caldeirada de frutos do mar ($280) next, and the colourful seafood stew was greeted with a chorus of oohs and ahhs. I spotted a couple of juicy tiger prawns, along with generous pieces of octopus, squid and scallops peeking out from the coconut milk gravy. The pot smelled like the ocean and the gorgeous seafood tasted fresh and savoury.
Coconut rice was served with the stew. The rice had a distinct Caribbean flavour, a tad different from the nasi lemak commonly found in Southeast Asia with which I’m accustomed. But it was fluffy and held the gravy well.
We ended the meal with a complimentary treat: beijinho de coco. I sank my teeth into one of the coconut balls and tasted condensed milk and desiccated coconut. They were beautifully soft, almost like truffles, and tasted delightfully sweet... and addictive. I wished they had sold them in festive boxes for Chinese New Year.
Uma Nota’s dishes are rustic and traditional, perfect for those who love to experiment and not overwhelm themselves with filling portions. Greens seemed to be their forte, having done extremely well with the avo salad and morning glory dishes. But if you’re looking for something a little more belly warming, try the new seafood stew. The prices are great too and the atmosphere is casual. Don’t worry about occasionally eating with your fingers; it’s unlikely anyone will judge you.
38 Peel Street, Central, 2889 7576
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