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08 May 2007


It is not unusual that a schlep is required to get a decent meal. An hour and a half down a rutted track, in a Volkswagen Gol (not Golf), followed by a walk down a steep hillside and finally, wading across a river. Prior to setting out, I knew about the track and the steep hill, but was totally unaware of the river. The first I learned of it was when we arrived at Espelho beach and having asked a couple of locals, we were pointed in the direction of a little blue building, sitting the other side of a river. We wandered up to the riverbank, opposite the restaurant assuming there had to be a dry way across. Much grinning and sign-language by the waiter standing on the far-side, made clear there was no dry way. So we waded. Silverbrowess was not impressed. Especially when the eponymous Sylvi informed us later that there was a dry way across through her car park - no need for that steep hillside either then.

Given how mediocre the rest of the food we have eaten has been out here, Sylvinha's was a revelation. The restaurant is run and owned by the lady herself with just one helper. There are only two tables in the restaurant and if you don't have a booking, you're not getting in. If you do have a booking, you'll get in, but there's no menu. You eat what Sylvinha serves. Her food is resolutely not local, not Bahian, her influences appear to be everywhere bar her front door, as demonstrated by the crisp-bread and za'atar we were served when we sat down. Silverbrowess wolfed it down - I was slightly less taken by it, finding the za'atar a bit tasteless, although the crisp-breads were a darned sight tastier than their close cousins, matzo (which dear reader, are one of only two foods I detest, the other is baked beans.) As with everywhere else in Brazil, the food took an age to arrive, but this gave us opportunity to appreciate the stunning view out to sea and conclude that Sylvinha's interior design tastes are similar I imagine to a stoned (allegedly) Cath Kidston. Very Trancoso.

We were served a large dish of seabass in a ginger, coconut and lightly curried sauce. It was very Southern Indian, probably cooked with ghee, rather than the olive oil, or marg - blah, they seem to favour elsewhere down here. Although Sylvinha took great offence to the notion that any of the food might be too closely associated with Bahian tradition, the dish was pretty similar to the one we so enjoyed at Cantinho Doce. However, it should be said that Sylvi's had far more flavour to it. To mop up the juices was some perfectly steamed rice with lentils, a decently flavoured vegetable stir-fry, an unremarkable coconut and vegetable dish and a mango chutney with a bit of a kick. I particularly enjoyed the dessert of creme brulee sans brulee, but avec a dash of cinammon. Silverbrowess couldn't stand it, but then again she doesn't like creme brulee at the best of times - strange girl. The meal was very good mainly due to the strong flavours. It was not technically astounding, her cooking was probably no better than a very good home-cook. But it was delicious and with the view out to sea, made for a lovely afternoon. I do find it interesting how this place is the talk of Trancoso. Clearly given the small numbers she serves there is an element of exclusivity to it, but on a purely objective basis, the cooking is not technically great. Clearly, context, plays a large part in your enjoyment of a meal, and there is a lot going for this place. But I do think that one reason Sylvi's is so loved is simply because lots of other places are so bad.

If you were wondering, we did have to wade back through the water and climb up the hill, but the drive back to the hotel was not as much of an ordeal.

Sylvinha's - Praia do Espelho, Trancoso, Bahia, Brazil
Tel: +54 (73) 9985 4157


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