Ovo was once an ordinary cafe. It did takeaway banana bread, toast and all the regular coffee orders. Then, on a whim, the cafe’s Brazilian owner, Ralphy Lasmar, decided to whip up a batch of bolo de cenoura (carrot cake) and coxinha (fried chicken and potato dumplings). “Someone went on a Brazilian Facebook page and posted photos and we started getting more and more Brazilians coming,” says Lasmar.
Now Cafe Ovo has a full-time Brazilian chef in Cristina Nascimento and a menu packed with the food of her country. Most of Ovo’s customers now are fellow South Americans who travel to get dishes they can’t find anywhere else in the city.
While Sydney has a lot of Brazilian restaurants, almost all of them focus on churrasco (barbequed meat). “I always wanted to do everyday food and go away from churrasco. What we do is what you get from a grandmother and mother on a daily basis,” says Lasmar.
The most classic of all dishes is feijoada, a mixed-plate dish developed by early slave communities. It consists of black beans stewed with sausages, smoked pork, ground cassava, garlicky kale (couve), salsa and fresh orange. “Mix it all together,” suggests Lasmar. “Then sprinkle the cassava flour on top.” It’s the most popular order, but many Brazilians come to Ovo to eat the regional dishes from their hometowns; Ovo serves the most famous dish from each region. From the north-east there’s the rich tomato-and-fish stew called moqueca, and the south-east, frango caipira, with juicy herb-encrusted roast chicken and cheesy polenta.
Ovo’s other speciality is cafe cuisine. “Brazilian breakfast is a lot of bread, cake and biscuits,” says Warrick Clarke, co-owner of Ovo and Lasmar’s partner. “It’s very simple.”
Aside from cakes – such as the bolo de cenoura mentioned earlier and brigadeiro, a chocolate ball made with condensed milk – there are a couple of breakfast staples. Pingado is a butter-soaked baguette served with coffee and cream cheese. There are also tapioca crepes.
"They can be filled with anything sweet or savoury," says Clarke. Here it’s served with slow-cooked beef and haloumi, or shredded chicken and cream cheese.
This is all served during the week. On Sunday Ovo does a breakfast buffet with coffee, usually sweet, made with a cloth filter. Some nights it also operates as a Caipirinha-slinging bar. Lasmar says he hopes Ovo will one day reopen elsewhere as an outdoor restaurant and bar.