The best thing about Jamie’s Italian in Edinburgh was the space it occupied in the city centre’s historic Assembly Rooms. With its high ceilings, ornate cornicing, imposing chandeliers, horseshoe bar area and grand proportions, it had a gravitas that wasn’t always matched by the food that was served.

Now that the Pukka One has departed this parish, it’s good to see that the space has been repurposed and reused. Since mid February, the substantial space at the back of the Assembly Rooms has been home to Rio, a Brazilian steak restaurant named after a mediocre Duran Duran album. So far the portents are good: the place has been rammed every evening at a time of year when many restaurants can only dream of such a problem.

Using exactly the same model as nearby Fazenda, Rio is based on the South American formula of a Churrasco steak restaurant where the waiting staff (or gauchos) wander from table to table, each with a different style of steak but all ready to carve off a chunk of meat for anyone whose card is on green (if you want a break, simply turn your card over so it’s displaying its red side). Diners basically eat themselves to a standstill before waddling off into the night gloom.


Also like Fazenda, Rio is a chain which has eight restaurants in the north of England, with Edinburgh its first foray north of the border. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: it allows the sort of bulk buying of Brazilian beef which keeps prices down. At £44.95 for an all-you-can-eat meatfest (£29.95 at lunchtime, £22.95 for just the vegetarian and fish dishes, and £9-12.50 for kids aged 5-12) this is extraordinarily good value.

The meal, however, starts off with the buffet in what was once the horseshoe bar at the centre of the restaurant. Since Rio came to town this buffet bar is crammed with all manner of goodies, from salads and seafood to sushi and stews. You’re told to make as many trips as you like to drink from this never-emptying well, presumably on the basis that diners who fill up on starters eat less steak. We certainly filled our boots, our hats and various other items of clothing with unnecessary binge eating, with the devilled eggs a particularly egregious extravagance.

Once we took our first mouthfuls of steak, the folly of filling up on the buffet fodder was fully exposed. The assortment of seven different styles of steaks was as good in quality as it was in quantity: there was Picanha, a special Brazilian cut of rump; fraldinha, one of our two favourites; the flavoursome bavette or skirt steak; picanha with garlic; maminha or bottom sirloin; alcatra, a rump steak slow-roasted in Rodizo style; bife Ancho, of ribeye; and fillet mignon, my other favourite. There are also special guest cuts and slow cooked beef ribs at the weekends.

Finally, there are several non-steak options, such as: spicy chicken wings, caramelised pork, chicken hearts, marinated chicken thighs, linguica pork sausages, gammon and pineapple, pork belly, minted lamb and a pescatarian selection.

We stuck largely to the steak and loved the sheer variety of cuts on offer. Not that we didn’t also try several of the non-beef options. In the spirit of journalistic endeavour, we downed sausages, ate wonderful caramelised pork and wolfed down minted lamb.

I even managed to find space for pudding in the form of Pudim de Leite, a traditional Brazilian caramel served with Doce de Leite or caramel sauce. It was a decent enough variation on a crema Catalana or crème caramel, but in truth it was probably one dish too many, leading to a hasty fiddling with my belt to unleash more space for my groaning gut. And make no mistake, unless you have supernatural powers of restraint, by the end of this trencherman’s meal you won’t be begging for more, but for less.

Rio, Assembly Rooms, 54 George St, Edinburgh EH2 2LR.

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