David Coffer

Latin American flavors gain ground

World Views

The Mexican dining trend, undoubtedly one of the pivotal fast-
casual success stories of the past few years, spawned many new chains, not only in Europe but also in the Middle East and beyond. 

Following the success of Chipotle Mexican Grill, other Californian-style Mexican brands exploded onto the European dining scene, and this shows no sign of slowing. 

The “Mexican wave” has since sparked a love affair with all Latin American foods, particularly Brazilian and Peruvian flavors. While for some startup operations it can be challenging to convince landlords that a new and unknown Latin American concept is solid, convincing consumers in many major cities of this has not been quite so tough — particularly in the most cosmopolitan areas, where consumers are open to new concepts and experiences.

Seasoned U.K. restaurateurs Jamie Barber and David Ponte recently teamed up to launch a bold new Brazilian brand called Cabana — a relaxed, vibrant and affordable concept that has opened sites at two Westfield shopping centers and in London’s Covent Garden. Cabana takes its cue from the traditional Brazilian churrascarias, showcasing snacks found on most Brazilian street corners. It also features its own frozen yogurt bar, in keeping with the stalls common to Brazilian city streets. Servers circulate the room with color-coded barbecue skewers, offering a wide variety of meat and fish. 

This service method is a common trait of other Brazilian branded and independent restaurants I have come across, one of the first being the Rodizio Rico chain in London. Rodizio Rico is an all-you-can-eat meat feast, a band of barbecue restaurants based on the Brazilian churrascaria de rodizio experience. Rodizio means rotate, so essentially the meats are served and carved to order off big skewers by passadors who rotate around the tables. Customers flip a round card in front of their place setting from green to red to indicate they are finished or want more. 

It also is commonplace to have a self-service buffet providing hot and cold fare such as maionese, the Brazilian take on the Russian salad, and salpicão, a salad of shredded chicken with celery, mayonnaise, matchstick potatoes and other ingredients. A flat price of approximately $35 to $40 per head is paid for an unlimited amount of meat and items from the buffet, making it perfect for group dining and a great value pig-out spot. 

This format now has started to make headway in the Middle East in such places as Bahrain, where you have Brazil Rodizio Grill & Lounge, and the United Arab Emirates, with concepts like Chamas and Pachanga. There also is the new and niche Brazilian cafe Sweet Brasil, which has multiple outlets in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, at Jumeirah Lakes Towers. The concept serves savory miniature pies called empadinhas and cheese buns called paõ de queijo. 

Churrascaria-style restaurants are even popping up in Russia, where the concept known as Braziliero is the best known. In Paris Botequim Brasileiro is another award-winning Brazilian restaurant full of character. 

Elsewhere in Europe the Brazilian trend continues to make waves in the leisure market, although frequently these operations — like Caipirinhas — focus on beverages rather than food.

In an effort to satisfy its appetite for this region of the Americas, the casual-dining market also has turned to Peru for its latest culinary craze. Peruvian cuisine traditionally has proved to be a complex one for outsiders to understand. Its influences include American, Spanish, European and Asian, yet it offers some distinctive qualities, too. 

Named after the traditional Peruvian dish of raw fish marinated in citrus juice, the new Peruvian restaurant Ceviche has made waves in London. Ceviche features the first specialized ceviche bar in the United Kingdom, which the owner moved forward with after starting a campaign on Twitter to gauge consumer interest. It also offers a pisco bar, serving Peru’s national drink, as well as specially imported Peruvian corn, served fried or steamed, and anticuchos, a Peruvian street food of barbecued-meat skewers. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these new flavors start appearing in various forms in other restaurants soon.

With three Peruvian restaurants opening in London alone in the last few months, Peru can boast one of the fastest-growing gastronomic movements. The second of the three is Lima, a slightly higher-spend affair, while the third is Tierra Peru, the most informal of the three. Still, Tierra Peru also features a focus on high-quality ingredients and the usual glut of chile. 

As you might expect, Spain’s close cultural links with Central and South America — owing to its linguistic affinity with the region and large immigration levels — mean that the Peruvian formula also can be found there. Food Service Europe & Middle East magazine recently profiled El Inca and El Inti de Oro, which serve authentic traditional Peruvian cuisine from Peruvian chef León Carrillo. 

Astrid & Gastón, in the fine-dining segment, and Tanta are two other Peruvian stalwarts opened by Peruvian restaurateur Gastón Acurio as part of his foodservice empire that includes a variety of brands and several units across seven Latin American countries. The newest of the bunch is Nikkei 225, which seeks to create classical Japanese dishes using Peruvian ingredients.

Both the U.K. and Spanish interpretations of Peruvian food have so far seemed to escape the cheap-and-cheerful pigeonholing that, say, Mexican and Brazilian restaurants are subject to, and this may mean Peruvian restaurants are less likely to spread as widely as those peers. Social media and the increasingly fast-paced food scene in the biggest global cities will certainly help these new exotic and adventurous concepts get off the ground pretty quickly. But they still need to prove they can offer something both special and scalable if they are to take the firm grip demonstrated by other Latin American cuisines in the global market. 

David Coffer is chairman of London-based The Coffer Group, a 40-year-old consulting firm specializing in the leisure sector and comprising Davis Coffer Lyons, Coffer Corporate Leisure, Coffer Hotels and Coffer Leisure Investment Advisory.

PREVIOUSLY: Niche brands on the rise [3]