On a once rather drab corner opposite the Crown and 2 Chairmen pub on Soho’s Dean Street, where straw-covered Chianti bottle two-bit spaghetti house Il Siciliano used to sit, is now a rainbow riot of colour in the form of Galeto. A shiny new and ultra-eager ‘Brazilian Street Food’ joint, Galeto is named for the famous “little chicken” – its signature dish, a classic from the favela food stalls imported by the Portuguese to Brazil in the 70s according to the appropriately street-foody, recycled, brown paper menu. The offering is simple, the menu tiny, the staff all smiles and Latin flourishy friendliness.
Perhaps hoping to cash in on the South American foodie trend which raced into Soho via Ceviche in 2010, Galeto has come up with something of a unique offering in this neighbourhood – with Brazil not yet being very well featured on plates anywhere in the capital.
The only issue with a tiny menu and such a unique offering, is that to stand out, and get a rousing encore from myself in the cheap seats, the food really needs to be eye-poppingly moreish. As it stands, the most zing, spice and colour we encountered at Galeto came largely from the limes, pinks and blues spray-painted on the walls. Seasoning and flavour somewhere fell off the boat midway across the Atlantic.
You sit at rather odd and slightly uncomfortable slide-out circular stools for small bums, like those on portable picnic benches. The restaurant itself is charming and pretty, cosy, bright and with a tiny but extremely active bar at the back whipping up deliciously fresh caipirinhas with acai, passion fruit, strawberries or kiwi as well as the traditional version.
The two beers on the menu are local Brazilian: Palma Louca and Brahma and there’s even Brazilian wine – which I couldn’t comment on as I was busy drowning myself in a blizzard of acai and Cachaça goodness.
We began with the whole gamut of starters. The chicken hearts which were juicy and not overcooked, had made a thankful encounter with a salt cellar and went very nicely with pimento sauce from the bottle. Tiger prawns grilled and served with lashings of crispy garlic were good too, done very simply and fairly priced. Sadly, blandness ensued in the form of indistinguishable bolinhos (small croquettes) – one supposedly containing shredded chicken which, on this occasion, had apparently done a runner; the other with bacalhau (salt cod) – a floury, stodgy, equally bland potatoey ball – the only dip provided a basket of supermarket ketchup, mayo and pepper sauce which were only Brazilian by virtue of the labels on them. A homemade molho, or sauce, here would have been a saving grace.
On to mains – I chose the signature chicken, marinated for 24-hours, “grilled to perfection” with a choice of sauces. I picked garlic cream. Thank the lord – as the chicken had missed the charge of the marinade brigade. It was all very pleasant and the chicken was moist, but it had definitely walked on the safe side. As for being a “little chicken” this one had been zapped by the Honey I Blew Up The Kids gizmo. Chips on the side were thin, crispy and fresh.
M. had the picanha – an extremely rare and slightly chewy cut of rump steak with little flavour, served with a salsa – mainly cubes of tomato and pepper – and the same chips. Perhaps our benchmark is too high, having enjoyed limitless extraordinary picanha in totally unassuming backstreet cafes in Portugal, but surely grilled meat – when its one of only two dishes you are selling – could easily become a killer taste bomb?
It was over drinks that the joint shone. Treat Galeto as a bar and you’ll have a great experience. The caipirinhas and caipiroskas are super refreshing, fruity and colourful. The music is uplifting and fun. The place was packed (where in soho isn’t on a Saturday night!) with happy punters. One of the desserts had me singing with joy, a frozen strawberry caipirinha sorbet, complete with kitsch wafer straw.
The owner kindly came out to say hello – always a nice touch. He pulled his weight behind the bar and greeted all the diners, clearly proud of his little restaurant. And lucky him to be able to open in the most competitive foodie quarter in the toughest economic climate. I could almost have begged for the funds to stretch as far as purchasing salt, pepper and chillies for the kitchen. There are simple ways to improve the staples here – taste, taste and taste again. Latin American is known for its fiery passion and colour, Galeto just needs to bring that into the food.