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Dance, drink and eat Brazil in Central London.Lots of fun 7 nights a week. Shows, Bands, DJ’s, everything hand-picked for you. And the best Caipirinha in Europe.
The word that springs to mind when describing Guanabara is Intense. This Brazilian themed establishment, located near Holborn tube, is touted as a bar, restaurant and night club, that ‘brings to life some of the amazing colours and magic of Brazil‘. So I suppose I should have expected an atmosphere that was more suited to night-life rather than night-cap.
But still, I was not quite prepared for the chaos of noise and dance that enveloped me upon heading up the stairs and opening the door onto the scene of the party. And it wasn’t even 8pm.
The name Guanabara comes from the Tupi-Guarani language name for the famous bay in Rio de Janeiro. This is a cultural melting pot and mixture of beaches, favelas, high rise apartments and stunning vistas – it is a place of ‘blazing extremes’ and a perfect environment for those wishing to eat, drink, and play.
And assumedly this is the atmosphere that this bar is trying to capture – something to hook you in whatever your preference.
Well. Guanabara certainly embraces the essence of eccentric Brazil, with party tunes made for grooving being pumping across the speakers, disco lights flashing with a rainbow glare, and garish, fiesta-coloured decor. The vibe was as pumping as a Shakira video (yes, I know she’s Columbian, but there was a lot of hip shaking). The whole shebang is located in one huge room rather than separate spaces, and in the centre is a large sunken dance floor which is, somewhat bizarrely, fringed by diners. The bar is located on one of the raised platforms along the side, where people stand and chat, or watch those letting loose below.
We’d planned to get some food, but decided to head directly to the bar and pluck up some dutch courage before descending into the melee to find our table. The lively atmosphere pervaded here too, with people jostling, laughing, and crowding around high circular tables. After managing to squeeze through the hubbub, I ordered a Caipirinha de Cachaça – this is, after all, their signature drink. I’m a big fan, and of course the trick is to get the right combination of sugar, fresh lime, and that delicious spirit cachaça – the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in Brazil.
The result was good – perfectly acceptable, I suppose – but not stand out. And for a bar that is as unashamedly Brazilian as Pele standing atop Sugar Loaf Mountain, then it should have been better. With caipirinhas I want to take a sip and feel I’ve been knocked sideways by a rogue Samba dancer at Carnival. And this cocktail should pack a punch, especially when there are no discernible mixers to speak of. The Guanabara one, using Velho Barreiro cachaça, had too much ice and not enough sweetness to balance the drink overall – the result was a bit weak and watery, with no delicious brown sugar crunch to compliment the citrus acidity and potent alcohol. But hey, I still gulped it down and decided to have one more drink at the bar, now that I was wedged in.
The bar tenders are evidently used to this fray, and so cocktails are rustled up with little fuss; yes they’re speedy – however there’s an overriding sense it’s all a bit clinical and methodical. But this is a crammed place so a love of the craft probably comes second to getting those drinks in people’s hands. I ordered a Berry Blossom for something a bit different, which used Stolichnaya vodka, acai berries, fresh lime and honey. Acai is a Brazilian super-fruit, so I appreciated the nod to authentic ingredients. Very tasty, with a nice zing from the berries making it not too sweet against the honey. There was the slight sense that I could be drinking alcoholic juice – no subtle flavours here – but then I don’t think subtly is something Guanabara are fussed about possessing.
I also tried the Brazilian Cowboy – Jack Daniel’s, crème de banane, fresh lime and orange juice. Whisky isn’t my favourite spirit, and this didn’t exactly sway me – the orange was a little overpowering, and there wasn’t much of a banana hit. I have a sneaking suspicion that it was a chance to shoehorn in the bendy yellow ingredient to make the drink a bit more exotic and ‘Brazilian’, much like taking Clint Eastwood, upending a fruit bowl on his head, and likening him to Carmen Miranda.
When we did go to have some food it transpired to be a very odd experience. Long tables with low benches are set right next to dance floor – it’s a case of climbing in an out (don’t wear short skirts, ladies). Orders may have to be shouted to the waitress because of the noise; don’t expect to have relaxed conversations; and don’t be surprised if an exuberant dancer nearly sticks their elbow in your empanadas. But the table service means no more waiting at the bar, and you can sit and nibble the perfectly passable chorizo and cassava fries.
I thought I’d indulge in a Passion Drop for a tropical touch of Brugal blanco rum, passion fruit purée, fresh lime and chilli. The menu cheekily hinted that this would release the endorphins resulting in an energised feeling that would be ‘both powerful and pleasurable’. If I was going to dance as wildly as some of the other patrons then I might need it.
It turned out to be my favourite cocktail of the evening – the passion fruit gave it a flavoursome burst that went down a treat, while I could definitely appreciate the chilli edge that caused my mouth to tingle nicely. Tasty and moreish. And following this I had a sip of the Batida De Maracuja. This concoction of Velho Barreiro cachaça passion fruit and condensed milk is apparently a Guanabara favourite, and although I couldn’t have had more than one, I really enjoyed the sweet, decadent silkiness of this creamy dessert cocktail that had an added cachaça kick.
All of the cocktails are £7, and so aren’t outrageously priced. The fruity, exotic flavours and pumping tunes definitely enhance the festival atmosphere that Guanabara has in bundles. But the crafting isn’t really there – the drinks never shake the slightly synthetic element that makes them a little reminiscent of squash, and the flavours aren’t combined with care. This is a more a place if you fancy some easy drinking alcoholic juices in a party atmosphere – there’s plenty of fun to be had, and on a Saturday night you’ll find yourself lured into a samba on the dance-floor without even meaning to. But if you’re planning a casual dinner, or want to enjoy some well crafted cocktails with friends, then I would warn that Guanabara is a place that thrives on extremes, and is unapologetically raucous.