To my eternal shame, I didn’t know that Brazilian-Japanese street food was a thing in Brazil, let alone 9000 miles away in Hong Kong. Known as Nipo-Brasiliero, it’s had the same impact as the better-known Nikkei cuisine in Peru to the point where it has now reached Soho in the form of Uma Nota. It means ‘one note’ in Portuguese, even if the evening started on more of a slightly sour one.
The welcome was, well, a bit awkward, at least for one half of the table. The vegetarian arrived at 635 for a 7pm table while I was stuck in a minibus. Now normally they don’t take bookings, but as they had invited me, they made an exception. However as she was only 50% of the party, she wasn’t allowed to take a seat, despite just wanting to have a glass of wine and do some work. Every table was empty, but she was made to stand at the bar until someone finally relented and saw common sense. The rule seems farcical for a couple of early diners in an empty restaurant, let alone if you have a table of 6 wanting to eat together – you gotta make sure that no one is stuck in a cab/meeting/typhoon, otherwise you’ll all end up going very hungry and waiting at the bar. In fairness it must be said that the manager Alex was a very nice fella and explained their policy – and maybe I’m just getting (more) irritable in old age.
Anyway the place filled up and was pretty popular for a Tuesday evening in the height of summer. On to a refreshing cocktail, which, when in Brazil, can only be a caïpirinha. Now I have a history with the caipirinha which, fact fans, translates as ‘hillbilly’ in Portuguese. Back in the day – 1998 to be precise – I was a fresh graduate living in Paris, dating a slightly mad Frenchwoman with a penchant for a cocktail. As luck would have it, the then rather grotty corner of the 19th arrondissement we frequented near Place des Fêtes boasted a Brazilian bar.
We’re talking a real bar, a tiny joint decked in every conceivable alcoholic trinket and knick knack, not in a fake Oirish pub ‘buy it by the metre’ way, but more the result of a lifetime of alcohol, travel and foraging flea markets. It was overseen by an enormous bearded Brazilian, a dopplegänger for Ernest Hemingway who in heavily-accented French would spend about 5 minutes making every single caipirinha. It was a Herculean effort, befitting his look. The recipe calls for ice, lime, brown sugar and the cachaça sugar cane rum to be ‘muddled’. He didn’t so much muddle it as utterly destroy it. This man could cleave a glacier in two if it was getting in the way of a good drink. He wielded his wooden stick like a club, using a mortar to extract every atom of flavour from the lime, before crushing ice by wrapping it in a tea towel and beating the living shit out of it. Now that’s how to make a caïpirinha.
Back in the 852, at Uma Nota they serve different iterations and I was pointed towards ‘a fresca’, the fresh fruit of the day which was watermelon. Maybe it was the naturally watery fruit, but it had no discernible kick, no mix of the sweet and sharp before the warmth of booze you look forward to. I didn’t get to see the process behind it, but I’m thinking a quick timewarp back to Paris in ’98 wouldn’t go amiss.
To the food then, starting with Pasteís de espinafre e queijo, or Brazilian-style fried wontons with spinach, mushroom and ricotta cheese. These bad boys were nuclear-hot and clearly straight from the frier. Deep-fried stuff is rarely bad, golden and crispy, but the ricotta could have been more prominent.