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db Eats: Cabana

From carnivals to caipirinhas, Amazon river to Amazonian supermodels, it just doesn’t get more exotic than Brazil. Now Cabana has brought the party to London with the launch of venues in Central St Giles Piazza and Westfield Stratford City.

After a few false starts wandering in the murky shadow of Centrepoint (the Covent Garden moniker is misleading), we finally found Cabana tucked into an enclave of bright but faceless urban regeneration.

Settling onto the reclaimed denim patchwork banquettes, we rewarded our navigation efforts with a treat from the cocktail list. As you would expect, the caipirinhas here are moreishly good: casually presented but refreshing and perfectly poised between sweet and mouthpuckering citrus zest.

Demonstrating a certain confidence in his masculinity, my friend ordered a baby pink strawberry batida; its mix of cachaça, strawberries and coconut milk making it a real smoothie for grown ups.

This is one of those places where the menu needs explaining, which for first-timers can be slightly frustrating. Our waitress wisely led us in gently by guiding us through a selection of starters before we had to get to grips with anything too conceptual.

The chicken coxhinas got us off to a flying start. Croquettes of moist chicken pieces packed plenty of spice, arriving simple but complete, with no need for any dip.

Next up came salmon ceviche, a little weighed down by its Marie-Rose style marinade but boldly flavoured, followed by some pleasantly light, crispy cheese-filled pastels. A real highlight though was the sweetcorn pamonha. The grated corn steamed in coconut milk with plenty of cinnamon was an unlikely but hugely successful, vibrant flavour combination.

Fortified, we got to grips with the traffic light markers required to manage the flow of assorted grilled meat to our table.

Sausages, chicken, prawns, marinated lamb and beef were all paraded past by the service team, priced on a Yo Sushi-style colour scheme. It’s difficult to keep track of how much you’re spending – or eating – when someone wafts a tender chunk of cumin and chilli doused lamb under your nose.

Fortunately the prices are reasonable, the meat is beautifully BBQ-ed and eventually one of the waitresses will put an end to the carnivorous onslaught by gently suggesting that you turn your traffic light red to pause the action.

To help soak up the meat sweats, we ordered a selection of side dishes. Diverting from the straightforward chip can be fraught with disappointment, but our sweet potato fries with paprika provided all the savoury flavour, crispy exterior and fluffy centre of their more common cousin.

The black beans with cumin, onions and garlic continued the spicy theme nicely, while tomato with palm heart salad provided some welcome refreshment to the mountains of carbohydrate and protein piling up on our table. The tomatoes were sadly a bit tasteless, but at this time of year a chef is only as good as his supplier.

Switching away from the all-too-drinkable cocktails into safer territory, my friend put away a couple of half pints of draught Sagres, while I took the rare opportunity to catch up with Brazil’s wine output.

The Da’Divas Chardonnay was mellow, rich and utterly invertebrate. While flabby on its own though, it was an excellent foil for the spicy food. If you’re looking for more polished wines, then the concise, casual list has plenty of safe bets from Chile and Argentina, all available by the glass.

Scouring the menu to check we hadn’t overlooked any crucial dishes, we spotted a prompt to download the free Cabana smartphone app. This gives access to the restaurant’s playlist (all Brazilian tracks so no killing the upbeat Latin atmosphere with Celine Dion) allowing you to line up your own tunes for the evening. In terms of simple, engaging, fun ways to interact with your customers, it’s a great touch.

We wound down from the BBQ bonanza with a selection from the frozen yoghurt mix. Having let this recent London craze pass me by, I kept it simple with a straightforward natural yoghurt and pineapple combination, but there was a host of flavours, fruits and chocolate options for the die hard fro-yo fiends. Rich and creamy, the sweetness surprised me, skirting a little too close to McFlurry territory, although some might take that as a positive.

If you’re a fan of Mexican chain Wahaca, then give Cabana a go. They share the same buzzy, young atmosphere; serve up sanitised but flavourful versions of cuisines which are under-represented in the UK in a fun, accessible way and make a mean cocktail from their national spirit.

Like Wahaca too, Cabana’s template looks ripe for replication, so don’t be surprised if a branch pops up in your part of town soon.

Cabana Covent Garden

7 Central St Giles Piazza, London WC2H 8AD

+44 (0)20 7632 9630

Cabana Westfield Stratford City

5 Chestnut Plaza, Montfitchet Way, Westfield Stratford City, E20 1GL

Tel: +44 (0)208 536 2650


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