Bossa Nova’s owners want their food to remind you of eating in someone’s home, rather than someone’s restaurant.
Couple Gabriel and Gabriela Gebaile (“at least you really only have to remember one,” Gabriel jokes of their similar names) moved to Melbourne from Brazil five years ago, and quickly became aware of a growing Brazilian community missing a taste of home.
Gabriel’s mother is a chef, and Gabriela’s aunt is a pastry chef, so late last year, as Gabriel puts it, “we dared to open a cafe”.
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Brazil’s cuisine is wide-ranging, and while Bossa Nova’s home-style menu is short, it reflects that diversity. It’s cosy food, designed to tug on the heartstrings of nostalgic Brazilians and transport curious Melburnians.
Start with pão de queijo, slightly chewy, pillowy little cheese rolls, served warm. They’re traditionally made with a soft, wet, raw cow’s-milk cheese from central Brazil, but unable to find it in Melbourne, the Gebailes use a mix of mozzarella, feta and parmesan.
Coxinha are pear-shaped croquettes – great for a quick breakfast – which are crunchy on the outside and filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese and served with a dollop of creamy chilli sauce. A vegan version is made with palm hearts.
Feijoada is a hot, spicy stew of black beans, pork, pancetta, chorizo and kale. A lighter alternative to this rib-sticker is moqueca, a seafood stew the Gebailes make with barramundi in a lightly spiced vegetable and coconut-cream broth. Both these dishes have vegan counterparts, too.
Then there’s the bauru, a classic Brazilian sandwich of roast beef, melted mozzarella, tomato and pickles. The inside of the bread is hollowed out a little, so the team can cram in more fillings. There’s also a version stacked thick with mortadella, cheese and tomato.
There’s a Chilean red wine to go with the heavier dishes, a South Australian riesling to match the moqueca, and a couple of local craft beers on the drinks list. Or go for a Caipirinha, a cocktail made with cachaça (Brazilian rum), sugar and lime.
The entire Bossa Nova team is Brazilian, all connected through childhood friendships and partnerships. Before coronavirus, Gabriel says members of the Brazilian community would meet at the restaurant, and Portuguese conversation classes were held here, too.
The Brazilian crew completed the fit-out of the former Thai restaurant themselves, from assembling the furniture, to building the signage above the shopfront from scratch.
Gabriela made the large cream and blue macramé wall hangings herself, as well as a colourful toucan painting. She’s also making bowls and plates for the restaurant. One wall is covered with thousands of wish ribbons, a tradition in Salvador of tying a ribbon to the gate of the cathedral and making three wishes.
On shelves by the door sit brightly coloured rows of jars of pickled peppers (“like at grandma’s,” says Gabriel), and you can buy Brazilian grocery items to take home, too.
Beans are from Ona Coffee; the team uses The Hitman blend, which is made with 60 per cent Brazilian beans. The Pingado is a shot of espresso and a little hot milk, and the Carioquinha comes in a small espresso cup with one shot espresso and the rest hot water, a bit like a weak short black. Get yours with some pudim, a creamy, caramel-drenched flan.
156 Elgin Street, Carlton
0423 146 157
Tues to Sun 10am–3.30pm