Walking into a new restaurant that’s situated in the exact same spot as an older, much-beloved restaurant that has now ceased to exist is a strange, almost disorienting sensation. Where there once were hilariously kitschy Indian posters, there are now tasteful art prints from South America; where there used to be a heavy, dark table we often sat around, there is now a brightly lit bar; the low-lit interiors have given way to a mellow light, and the ceiling has opened up, supported by graceful art deco arches.
There are plants everywhere. The narrow balcony outside is gone.
What was once The Permit Room — a watering hole particularly popular among a certain subset of Bengalureans who loved their beer with hipster-local delicacies like egg puffs and haleem samosas — is now Boteco, the city’s first authentic Brazilian restaurant. The transformation is startling. “I am sorry your favourite place closed down — you must have so many memories! But I hope you will make many new memories at Boteco,” says Guto Souza, chef-partner at Boteco, welcoming me and gracefully fielding my lamentations over the closure of the older restaurant it has replaced.
Boteco feels like the kind of place almost tailor-made for the making of memories. In Brazil, ‘botecos’ are traditional neighbourhood bars; the Portuguese term stands for a place for great drinks and easy conversation. With its cheerful, happy interiors and a casual and relaxed vibe, Boteco offers an extensive menu of both original Brazilian and reimagined dishes and a number of fun cocktails. Along with Souza, Boteco-Restaurante Brasileiro (to give it its full name) is the brainchild of engineer-turned-restaurateur Praveesh Govindan who fell in love with Brazil and its cuisines while travelling on work to the country. Meeting Guto Souza inspired him to open a Brazilian restaurant in India, and the first outlet opened doors in Pune in 2016 and has remained a popular hotspot for the city’s foodies.
If you thought a Brazilian restaurant is by default a churrascaria — a casual-dining place which serves an extremely meat-heavy menu of barbecued sausages and roasted meats — think again. Boteco’s menu is altogether more refined and varied, and there are several vegetarian options, even; try quick bites like Coxinhas, a popular street food of lightly spiced golden-fried chicken; the immensely popular Pão de Queijo, heavenly small-sized buns (pãos) made from tapioca flour and cheese (which makes them naturally gluten-free); Bolinho De Aipim, deep-fried cassava and cheese croquettes; Feijao Amigo, a thick traditional soup made with beans, aroma of parsley, garlic, bay leaf and fresh cream; Linguiça com Mandioca, seasoned pork sausages with cassava fries; and Casquinha De Siri, a fantastic crab dish where crab meat is sautéed with coconut milk, palm oil, tomatoes, and paprika and topped with cheese. And there is a churrascaria section of course — with all the sausages and roasts made in-house and served straight from the grill.
“Actually the number of vegetarians-by-choice is going up in Brazil as well,” says Souza, called ‘Chef Guto’ by everyone who knows him. “Every cuisine has to evolve, and Brazilian food is absolutely unique in that way,” he adds, referring to the fact that the country’s food is an interesting mix of influences from around the world — indigenous, Portuguese, Italian, Arab and even Japanese, thanks to the large number of ethnic Japanese who call Brazil home.
“There are certain common flavours but you can’t say there is a single Brazilian cuisine,” says Souza. The food at Boteco, then, is his interpretation of the traditional cuisines of Brazil — layered with his own experiences of being a chef and restaurateur in several different countries — he helmed kitchens and run restaurants in Brazil as well as La Cacerola in Amsterdam, Tante Kiki in Bruges, and Fusion and Go with the Flow in Goa before starting Boteco in Pune and then taking it to Mumbai, though the Mumbai outlet has been temporarily shuttered following the pandemic. The brand also runs the Boteco Pantry, an online store of some of Boteco’s most popular condiments, sauces and marinated meats.
Being in and out of India for almost 20 years has also added to the richness of his cooking, says Souza, who lived in Goa for several years and made fast friends with the late artist Mario Miranda and his wife Habiba. In fact, Habiba taught him to cook Indian food. “I make a killer biriyani,” says Souza, laughing.
His dream for Boteco is for it to become the kind of place you keep coming back to — for the food and the conversation. “Now that people are out and about and experimenting more, I hope the worst days of the pandemic are behind us. I think we all need to see more people — we have been so sad these past two years and I want to make them happy with food,” says Souza. “I suffer if someone eats my food and doesn’t like it. It’s the saddest thing for me.”