For a late lunch with an old friend who spent a good deal of her formative years visiting Brazil, where her father was working at the time, what better treat than a Brazilian BBQ restaurant in the heart of Islington?
As it happens there are two such establishments very close together on Upper Street, though Cabana was the first we came to; the other, Rodizio Rico, operates a traditional churrasco, where for a set fee you can enjoy unlimited skewers of animal flesh (“all the meat you can eat”), typically including “Picanha, Rump Steak, Beef Ribs, Leg of Lamb, Chicken wings & legs, Leg of Pork, spare ribs, sausages, and more…”
By contrast Cabana goes for funky interior decor and ambience but a more traditional American chain menu, including skewers but also burgers, salads, veggie dishes and “sides.” In fact, Cabana was definitely the more appropriate choice for this lunch, given that the meeting was more about catching up after some considerable time, but for serious eating on another occasion, Rodizio Rico will join my lengthy list of restaurants to sample and review.
Getting a table at Cabana as footfall customers was not hard, with a cheery waiter sporting a hipster beard keen to offer us dining space. As luck would have it, this table was also handy for the loos and for a power socket for charging mobiles – always a modern prerequisite.
Having settled ourselves and sorted drinks (no cocktails, this being a lunch rendezvous rather than an extended evening of debauchery), the next challenge was to choose food. My friend was quite particular, requesting what at face value sounds an easy dish to prepare: a small chicken salad, not too hot or spicy.
In practice this took some negotiating, but the finished result was…. a chicken salad with unadvertised potato balls, on the upper limits of my friend’s chilli tolerance, and by anybody else’s standards a sizeable portion. If this was “small”, “big” would have been well into American dimensions. This reminds me of my ex-wife once ordering a salad in Florida; it came in a small bucket, topped with a pound and a half of sliced meats!
For myself, I went for the Cabana steak, described thus:
Classic Latin American cut, best known for its rich flavour. Marinated in our Chilli & Cumin sauce and served with French Fries and small Rio Beans
This means the spiral cut popular in Argentina, effectively a flattened steak but still served rare on this occasion, as requested. It arrived on skewers before being decanted to my plate alongside a cup of fries and a small bowl of beans. In the Argentine the steak would be marinaded in chimichurri sauce, though here the chilli and cumin were not readily discernible. Flavour was nonetheless quite decent, but a cold plate detracted from the overall effect; stone cold steak is not such an attractive dining proposition.
The impression given is that Cabana is a cool venue for drinks and light bites, but not really a serious dining room. It’s fun and does a reasonable job without ever giving the impression of aiming higher.