“ Address:Praça do Município 6 / Santo Tirso / Portugal / 4780-373 / Tel: +351 252853054 „
When my third re-booked flight from Portugal to the UK got cancelled because of the volcanic ash, it became clear that I wasn't going to make it home for the weekend. The colleagues in our factory were getting used to us turning up with our suitcases day after day. Recognising that we might be running out of entertainment, one of them asked if we'd all like to join a group of people who were going out for dinner on the Friday evening. My colleague who was there with his wife and child wanted a quiet night in the hotel and to get their kid to bed early but this left me and another German colleague - Guenter - with nothing better to do. So we said 'Yes please' and took down the name of the restaurant and some rough instructions where to find it.
The restaurant was called the Sao Rosendo and was located on the far side of the park which stands in front of the Cidnay hotel in Santo Tirso where we were staying. Whilst I was waiting for Guenter to appear, I took a walk through the park and realised that 'the other side' was a very large space and I couldn't see where the restaurant was. I headed back to the hotel to ask one of the ever-helpful receptionists where to find the restaurant and was told that it was over the Santander-Totto bank.
~Nothing Ever Happens On Time in Portugal~
Guenter arrived and we headed off to join the others. We'd been told to be there at 8 pm which seemed a bit on the early side for Portugal, and knowing that our colleagues haven't turned up on time for ANYTHING in the entire time I've been with the company, we strolled over at about ten past the hour. Sure enough we found the entrance and headed up the stairs taking us above the bank and into the reception area of the restaurant. There was nothing to indicate where we should go so I pushed at a couple of doors until one opened onto a large room filled with long tables, one of which was - much to my surprise - almost filled with our colleagues. My expectation that these people would be late for their own funerals was entirely incorrect. I readjusted my assumptions: meetings and telephone conference = 10 to 20 minutes late, big dinner = spot on time.
~Here Comes the Bride~
The room had all the atmosphere of a low budget wedding reception in a village hall. It was a low ceilinged room with those nasty acoustic tiles on the ceiling. The walls were drab and brownish in colour and the room could be varied in size with the use of those nasty concertina doors that were so popular once upon a very long ago and tasteless time (apologies to anyone who has them but it's time to think about an upgrade). I'm sure we had something of that type in my primary school assembly hall.
Enough of the décor - we're here to eat and spend time with colleagues, not to critique the floor coverings and soft furnishings. We popped down the table to thank the guy who had invited us and to say hello to the factory manager and her deputy and then took two free seats at the end of the long table. There must have been about 30 seats at the table in total. The waiters were lurking around and bringing drinks - cokes, iced tea, beers and some pretty devilish looking caipirinhas. These held the clue to the evening's theme - caipirinhas are a pretty sure sign that you've stumbled into Brazilian night. And Brazilian night means obscene amounts of meat.
~All You Can Eat - REALLY!~
The lady next to me explained how the system worked at the restaurant. We would pay a very reasonable 8 euros for the food, including desserts, and any drinks or coffees would be settled up individually at the end. This seemed a very practical solution to how to have a big night out with colleagues without people either not pulling their weight when the bill comes, or paying way over the odds for everyone else's drinks.
After about 45 minutes of chat and sipping beer, the food had all been laid out on long tables at one side of the room. A singer with absurdly curly hair was perched on a stool with a chap next to her giving his all on a Bontempi organ (OK, that might be an exaggeration and I don't know if Bontempi still exists, but I think you get the picture). It must truly be the most depressing 'gig' in the world of entertainment to sing to people who are paying you no attention whatsoever, and are only waiting for the food service to begin. The chances that anyone will leap to their feet and start swaying to the beat are tiny and you could easily be replaced by an iPod. The guy sitting with us explained that the singer was Brazilian and tried to teach us the difference between the Brazilian and Portuguese accents which was, to be honest, a thankless task.
Several of the guys further down the table stood up and started to move towards the buffet. Thinking that perhaps there was some etiquette that we had to go by table, we stood up and joined the rest of the table heading over to queue by the food. Someone explained to me that this was just the buffet of food to go with the main meat which would be brought to the table by the waiters. Since I don't eat meat at all, I made sure to fill my plate with enough to keep me going whilst everyone else was devouring several beasts worth of barbecued critters. At that stage we could also see the desserts laid out for later and so judge just how much space to leave for later. I took a plate and shuffled along the table, filling my plate with assorted salads, rice, a few chips (OK, slightly more than a few) and a good hearty dose of the Brazilian black bean stew that I've always fancied in Brazilian restaurants, but hadn't previously been able to get due to never ordering the meat. I also took a large spoonful of an octopus and vegetable stew.
~En Garde - Meat Swords at the Ready~
Back at the table, the meat performance was about to start. This was my fourth experience of Brazilian barbecue and despite not eating this stuff myself, I've been studying how it works. The waiters appear with long sword-like skewers loaded with meat. Generally the first few rounds of skewer offerings tend to be based around sausage and other low-grade meats. I think that the idea is to fill the diners up with the cheap stuff before bringing out the better cuts towards the end of the meal. It took several rounds before the waiters worked out that they didn't need to ask me because I was always going to say no. Even setting aside the ridiculously low price of the meal, it was astonishing to see just how much food was on offer. After the initial few rounds of sausages and what I guesses as belly pork and other cheap meats, they moved on to chicken wings. A few rounds later and the quality was going up as the bellies became more full. The waiters brought some very juicy pork joints, and even something that looked like a pretty high grade beef. You'll have to take my guesses with a pinch of salt since it's more than 20 years since I stopped eating any of these things.
This arrangement of Brazilian barbecue is very definitely a great choice if you have a massive appetite for meat. If you're a more dainty eater, or one who's just not that found of a mountain of dead animals, it might not be the place to put on the top of your to do list. The only item I had off the skewers all evening was hot baked pineapple which I just couldn't resist. At last a chance to join in with the whole 'dinner on a sword' approach. I'd never have thought to barbecue a pineapple on a sword but since I was at the start of the table, I got the slices that were still black from the coals and were bursting with concentrated sweet juiciness.
After about an hour, the skewers were being turned down by almost everyone and even the greediest and most hollow-legged diners were shaking their heads and patting their tummies. Time for a rest? Of course not, we were off to look at the puddings. The Portuguese do very good custard-based desserts so I took a spoonful of a crème-brulee type dish and a small slither or another vermicelli-based pudding and half a baked apple. There were numerous other cakes and puddings but that was more than enough for me. I noticed as I passed the main savoury table that a chick-pea salad had been placed there which would certainly have tempted me if I'd seen it earlier.
~Calling it a Day~
By the time I'd finished my desserts it was about 10.15 pm. I felt a bit bad for the poor souls sitting with us because they'd had to speak English all evening and Guenter's not the most 'chatty' of people. I was tired of making meaningless conversation and trying to carry the talk for both of us. The group whom we'd joined included a lot of people who no longer work for the company and we wanted to give them plenty of time to talk to their old friends and not have them feeling obliged to entertain their stranded guests. So I checked with the factory manager that nobody would be offended if we left early, made our excuses about being exhausted from all the stress of the flights being cancelled again and again, and she called the waiter to get the bills for us and explain that we were leaving. For the two of us the food was Euro16 and the beers Euro3 each on top. Total cost just Euro22. I can't say that it was 'my kind of meal' but as a night out, it certainly beat a club sandwich and a beer in the bar of the hotel and didn't cost much more.
~Friday Night Is Brazilian Night~
In the unlikely event that you find yourself in Santo Tirso on any night other than Friday, I don't think that Sao Rosendro does this meat-performance every night. I got the impression that this is a Friday-night special. If you love meat and can eat a pile of dead animals bigger than your head, this is the place for you - but unless you speak Portuguese or have local friends who do and can go along with you who can communicate with the staff, you may well find you're totally baffled by what's going on. Despite having no meat at all, I still enjoyed our evening and thought that the food was excellent value, even though I had only a few items off the buffet.