Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Lasai translates from the Basque language as ‘tranquil’ – and it’s a seminal characteristic of the Rio restaurant in the form of its relaxed but deep-rooted style of hospitality.
Chef and co-owner Rafa Costa e Silva is now firmly established as one of Brazil’s leading contemporary cooks, but the restaurant itself is very much the product of the partnership with his wife, Malena Cardiel. It is Cardiel who runs the small but elegant dining room, ensuring that Costa’s plates are enhanced through knowledgeable service, exquisite drinks pairings and that all-important conviviality.
The pair met in New York, where Costa had gone in search of culinary experience after jacking in a burgeoning but ultimately unrewarding career in banking. Both went on to work at celebrated Basque restaurant Mugaritz – Costa as one of Andoni Luis Aduriz’s right hands in the kitchen, Cardiel as a senior maître d’ – before returning to the chef’s home in Brazil. In 2012 they opened Lasai together; in 2019 it not only ranks as one of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants but features in the extended global list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants at No.74.
The restaurant benefits from its stunning setting in a historic house, dating back to the dawn of the 20th century, in the increasingly hip Botafogo district of Brazil’s iconic city. The light dining room mixes the natural with the designed, historic with modern, and each table features a centrepiece of a key local ingredient under a small glass dome. Guests can also relax before or after experiencing the daily-changing tasting menu on one of the city’s finest terraces, with memorable views over Rio.
Costa’s inventive dishes showcase unusual vegetables and herbs, often from the restaurant’s own organic kitchen gardens, as well as seafood from a select group of hand-picked fishers. Its drinks programme – including many natural wines, premium cocktails and local drinks creations – is diverse and original, but accessible at the same time.
Lasai is certainly an imaginative restaurant, but it never veers into pretension, largely due to the warmth of the staff and their unaffected delivery. It’s a blend that reflects Costa and Cardiel’s own sense of teamwork, and which earns Lasai The Art of Hospitality Award 2019.