Even the most relaxed restaurant experiences require some early admin. Even establishments that would rather defenestrate every biodynamic wine bottle in their cellar than utter the words “allow us to explain our concept” need to give uninitiated diners a vague sense of how everything works. And yet, at Fazenda, a new South American grill in Bishopsgate, there is such an abundance of introductory spiel — about the signature, all-you-can-eat barbecue offering that is paraded around the room, about the exhaustive a la carte menu, and about the bottomless “market table” salad area that servers have all clearly been instructed to never, ever refer to as a buffet — that it is hard to not be put in mind of a convoluted safety briefing at a trampoline park.
If it all sounds a little like a Harvester and a branch of Gaucho had a lightly confounding, glossy baby, then that is apt. For better or worse, that pretty accurately describes the charms and challenges of eating here. Utterly thrilling when it sticks to what it does best, this first London outpost of the hit northern chain nonetheless exhibits a kind of wayward overeagerness. The best thing about Fazenda (which means farm in Portuguese) is that it is sort of too much. The worst thing about Fazenda is, well, that it is sort of too much.
The positives were more apparent to start with. Set in the base of a skyscraper, this sixth site is apparently the group’s biggest and grandest yet: a multi-level, timber-accented sprawl of moody lighting, fake foliage, a smoky, bovine musk, and pert banquettes that bring to mind a row of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers. My early memories of my first trip are of my mother cradling a sweet, mate tea-based mocktail, attempting to flag down the skewer-wielding passadors as if they were passing taxis, and speculating as to just how many unlimited salad bar sobrasada balls a friend of hers would have already surreptitiously stuffed into a handbag.
If you have been to a Brazilian barbecue before then you’ll know that they are often more about gut-busting novelty than exceptional produce quality or grilling acumen. That is demonstrably not the case here. Each of the assorted animal parts brought over in unrelenting procession — winnowed-off slices of fatty, blushing pink picanha, stubby links of wagyu chorizo, tender lamb cutlets that drew low, bleating groans of pure, primal delight — are characterised by luscious, high-grade flavour, careful seasoning, and adroitly applied char. There’s similar skill evident in a pan of oil-glossed, rabidly griddled greens, a one-bite wagyu beef choux puff, and the “Fazenda Sweet Box” of jewel-like desserts that offer a light finish to anyone not collapsed in a puddle of meat sweats. It was when I drifted away from the “rodizio” (meaning rotation), however, that things got more haphazard.
Trout served with a properly gopping, warm crème fraîche sauce, may be one of the most fascinatingly unappetising dishes I’ve had
The Pollock-spatter, kitchen sink approach to many of the buffet salads can be both enlivening (aubergine slices, cooked-down to fudgy softness) and chaotic (a riff on Caesar salad with bullying boquerones rather than anchovies). A trout main from the a la carte section, perplexingly under-seasoned and served with a properly gopping, warm crème fraîche sauce, may be one of the most fascinatingly unappetising dishes I’ve had this year. And, more broadly, the financial practicalities of a meal at Fazenda— £50 each for a rodizio that has most waving the white flag before one cycle is done, extra for starters and sides, a buffet plate that either leaves you ruinously full or remains mostly untouched — make the ostensible generosity of the offering feel illusory.
Still, look, I am perhaps being churlish. Fazenda is keenly run, occasionally fantastic and already seems to have lured in the power lunching, City clientele it is clearly aimed at (it felt telling to see a suited solo diner perusing spreadsheets between bites of rib-eye). But if you are asking me whether it can consistently fill out its 170-cover space, and repeat the success it has enjoyed in Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh? Well, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
100 Bishopsgate, EC2M 1GT. Meal for two plus drinks about £170. Open Monday to Wednesday 11.30am-10pm, Thursday to Saturday from 11.30am-10.30pm and Sunday from 11.30am-9pm; fazenda.co.uk