“I don’t what it is, but there’s just something really pleasing about this cake…” said my friend Jo as we both dug into a golden ring of orange cake at Viela. Jo, a jeweler by trade, had joined me for lunch at the relatively new Brazilian street food spot on Vittoria Street, her polished nail chipped from a morning tending to precious trinkets.
I laughed, because she wasn’t joking. At this café, in the heart of the Jewelery Quarter, a maker being drawn to the only ring on the menu didn’t shock me at all. It wasn’t just the shape that was noteworthy though, it was the fragrant orange zest of the light, drizzle-like creation, as bright and sunny as the day itself.
We’d ordered one of everything on the menu because I was feeling in an indecisive mood. It was all boxed up in cardboard, street food style, filling our table-for-two. We were the only people sitting in the sunny courtyard when we arrived, a sun trap hidden round the back of the deceptively little café front.
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This place is operated by Samuel and Joyce, who run the Brazilian Cultural Center. The café is a fledgling, though the dance studio has been here for a while, a wide open space made light by the huge, industrial windows. Our tables had a view of it, where dancers would normally be whirling, practicing capoeira.
Instead, I was dancing around half a tapioca, which the menu had said was a crepe, £5.50. It was everything I love about crepes and none of the things I don’t. Crisp and eggless, made with tapioca flour and with a sprinkling of salt, it held the cheese and tomato inside like a thin, crisp calzone.
We were impressed, it was a much more substantial lunch option than we’d assumed it was going to be. There had been three options on the menu, one with smoked sausage, another vegan option filled with veg, but we’d gone for the mid-way point. It was a great idea.
The starchy white tapioca, speckled with charred craters, glowed in the sunlight like a half moon, waning to a crescent as I munched. Way more exciting than a humble crepe, that’s for sure. “What a glorious surprise!” Jo said, as it reached a total eclipse. I concurred.
We sipped on our freshly made acai smoothie before trying the tidbits I was mostly excited for, a coxinha for Jo and a pão de queijo for me.
The coxinha (£2.60) was a beautiful, chicken croquette, shaped like the teardrop of a plump chicken’s thigh, nestled in a cake case. If it wasn’t for the shape and the fact we were in Birmingham and not Sicily, I’d have assumed it was a ball of arancini.
It was as heavy too. Jo broke open the crisp, fried dough dumpling to find brilliantly orange, spiced shredded chicken inside. The flavor of the meat, she said, reminded her of Indian spices, though Samuel was keeping their blend a secret when we asked. Fair play, I thought – I love a mystery as much as anyone.
My own veggie morsel was a freshly-baked pão de queijo, a cheesy ball of bread made with tapioca flour, £1.80. It was just wonderful, the cheese and tapioca starch working together in tandem to made a stretchy, bouncing ball of joy. It tasted of a cheese scone but with more substance, heavy enough to be used as a weapon if for some reason it all started kicking off.
Fortunately, it hadn’t. Two other pairs had come in to dine and sip on smoothies, but it was still quiet. If you discount the sounds of my enthusiastic chewing.
When our bellies were surprisingly full from all of the substantial savories, we turned our attention to the sweets. After the happy surprise of the crepe, we were excited to sample cakes we had never tasted before.
A bolo de cenoura carrot cake (£3.50) glowed warmly in the sun, topped with chocolate frosting. It was, again, quite heavy, the flavors pleasantly sweet but simple.
The bolo de coco was very moist, with a fresh, coconut aftertaste that lingered. It tasted of summer but Jo couldn’t get past the texture. “It’s too wet in my mouth!” she said, taking another forkful of the bolo de cenoura.
I’m glad we didn’t come to blows over the mini bolo de laranja (£3.50), an almost sherberty-tasting citric orange cake, because I’d eaten my cheese bread weapon and I didn’t think I could take on weightlifting Jo without it. We could have had a bost-up had it been a smaller portion, though, because we both loved it.
It was the golden ring I mentioned before, by far the best cake of them all, more sweet than tart, more aromatic than juicy. I could have liked it to a lemon drizzle. While we went back and forth, trying them all, the pretty orange cake won the day. “One ring to rule them all!” Jo joked, and I snatched another mouthful.
The food was pretty good, but the vibe here was better. A secluded hideaway from the bustle of the JQ, it felt like a peaceful escape, the likes of Urban filled with lunching people just a stone’s throw away.
As a couple of ladies on the table next door ‘mmm’ed and swapped crepes, we noted how lovely it was to sit in the sun, trying Brazilian treats we’d never had before, switching between cardboard boxes to experience what Samuel and Joyce had wanted us to try when they had made them fresh. This was sharing food.
I wondered if this courtyard would be as much a quiet sanctuary as it was today once everyone realized it was there and flocked to get their hands on the teardrop-shaped croquettes. Time will tell. And next time I visit, I’ll be armed with two pão de queijo, just in case I have to fight for a table.
You can find Viela at 91 Vittoria St, B1 3NU. This was an independent review and food was paid for by BirminghamLive.
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