2 posts categorized "Brazil, Trancoso"

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

07 May 2007


Rio was fantastic but hectic, so we needed an antidote, after two and a half weeks on holiday, you need time to switch off and relax.  Trancoso was the place.  It is a very pretty little village with 3,000 residents.

We needed a bit of luxury so we decided to stay at a gorgeous hotel called Pousada Etnia. I say hotel, but it's a collection of bungalows (which is all the rage in this part of the world) with a bar, breakfast area and pool set in what can only be described as a rainforest. Etnia is owned and run by Andre Zanonato (Brazilian, but of Italian descent) and his partner Corrado Tini (Italian) & their 3 gorgeous labradors, Lola (who was only into me because I kept feeding her), Ginny (who smelled a bit) and Rocco, their boisterous son.

Each bungalow is designed along a different theme.  We stayed in Mediteraneo, a large white and blue room - it was amazing, very classy.  Andre let us take a peek into the other bungalows.  He was excited for us to see how amazing and varied each of the bungalows were and I was eager to check we had the best bungalow.  As it turns out, ours was the best one but another bungalow, Gipsy caught my eye.  It was a clash of pink, orange and blue - I would have been equally happy staying in this room but it was too camp for Silverbrow.

Breakfast provided a lazy start to the day, beginning at 9am and finishing at 11am.  We ate lunch on a few occasions at the hotel.  Silverbrow loved the gnocchi, which, as he guessed correctly, was made using Andre's mum's secret recipe, which she had personally taught the kitchen staff to cook.  We were also well looked after by Paulo, the barman who kept us plied with amazing kiwi and passion fruit caiprinhas.

By night we hung out at the Quadrado - the village square.  It is a cute array of little, brightly coloured shops selling all sorts of glittery tat, to rich Europeans and tax evading Brazilians.  The shops were all perfect - the outside of each one was painted in a different colour (this is a local, Bahaian tradition) and there were many lit candles scattered around to add to the atmosphere.  In fact if Disney was trying to create an open air chi-chi shopping mall.  This place was seventh heaven for me, a Starbucks would have made it perfect - it's the only thing I've missed from home.  I dragged Silverbrow around all of the shops (several times as we were there for a week) but in the end we didn't buy anything other than a paperweight and a pair of Havaianas (the coolest thing in Brazil.)

Interspersed amongst the shops were several equally ritzy restaurants.  Unfortunately their flash decor was no sign of quality of the food.  We sampled many of the dishes over the week we were there.  We loved the seabass cooked in ginger and cashew sauce at Cantinho Doce and went back twice because it was so good.  The other meals were not overly memorable, apart from the sushi we had one night.  Despite being by the sea, the chef was using frozen salmon.  Silverbrow went off on some rant about why serve salmon when you're by the sea.  I reckon, they would have been better off as a simple fish restaurant, serving locally sourced fish, rather than doing sushi badly. (She's learning dammit - Ed.)

However, the mediocrity of the food did not detract from us having the most wonderful, tranquilo week in Trancoso.  We topped up our tans, swam a bit, read and chilled and even made a few friends along the way.

Should we ever find ourselves back in this neck of the rainforest, we will definitely be going back to stay (this time in Gipsy.)