Thursday, May 30, 2024
featuresfood and drink

Polvo Bar – Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro: Good Food Ruined By Poor Pricing And Suspect Service

It’s not often I feel compelled to write a bad review but sometimes an experience is so disappointing it leaves a taste in your mouth that feel like ashes. I believe that mistakes can be made as no one is perfect, and in the restaurant industry, this is also a valid assumption. 

Even the best and most well-renowned eateries have their issues on certain nights, as unforeseen circumstances happen in the kitchen and some problems are unavoidable. When talking about Polvo Bar however this is not the case. I have visited this restaurant set in the heart of trendy neighbourhood Botafogo a total of three times. the first time was excellent, unfortunately on the subsequent visits there was a rapid decline in our customer experience. 

As the title suggests this restaurant has delicious food, but the problems are caused by poor service, overpricing and in one experience I had there the waiting staff tried to overcharge me for beverages I had not ordered. In this review, I am going explain each visit individually as I feel it will help highlight the issues we have had eating here and allow readers to see the journey I have been on with this restaurant and help drive home the problems that were faced

Discovering Polvo Bar

Each time I have dined here have been with my girlfriend, we are both foodies and love exploring exciting new places. Rio is full of tongue-tantalising grub and we both scour Instagram daily looking for new spots to sink our teeth into. Social media as many of us know is a wonderful way to discover new food, and Polvo Bar has their marketing spot on in this sense.

It was my girlfriend who came across Polvo Bar, we both have an infatuation with eating octopus and this spot looked like a perfect fit for us both. While scrolling through their page we came across the octopus hot dog and it looked divine. That was all we needed to see, we were soldThe Uber was booked and we were on our way. 

Our First Visit

As we arrived at the bar I first noticed how inviting the decor was. The bar is adorned with marine-style artwork, from anchors, helms and of course many sea creatures and crustaceans displayed on the walls and across the top of the bar. Polvo Bar is a little cramped inside, the tables are small and it is hard to fit all the dishes into one area, but they are working well enough with the space they have, and also have outside seating to accommodate more customers. This is a minor inconvenience and in their defence isn’t something that is 100% under the bar’s control. 

We started with the Oysters which were wonderfully fresh and was a perfect introduction to the start of our meal. After this, we ordered the soft shell crab bao bun (this item is no longer on the menu). The crab was fried to perfection and complimented fantastically by the guacamole. Honestly, it was delicious and we were both understandably waiting with bated breath for the next course. 

Of course, we selected the menu item that lured us through the restaurant doors in the first place and we both had the octopus hotdog. The dish is served on milk bread with miso mayonnaise and salsa that compliments the flavour of the octopus tentacle Wonderfully this was served with a mountain of fries that were seasoned perfectly, crunch, fluffy and salty. even stayed a little longer and washed my meal down with a few beers.

The final bill was a little more than similar places in the area, but overall our first visit was a resounding success and I feel it was worth what I paid for. Myself and my girlfriend could not wait to return. Unfortunately, as we are about discovering these high standards were not the restaurant’s constant standard. 

Our Second Visit – Underhanded Overcharging 

We arrived again at Polvo Bar on a lively Sunday afternoon. We had both had a few glasses of wine at home the night before and around 1 pm we both decided we needed to venture outside and seize the day. This time we were seated outside, and there was much more room to manoeuvre. We again started with the oysters which were wonderful. This time for my main I fancied a change of pace and I ordered the fish sandwich, my girlfriend stuck to her guns and once again ordered the octopus hotdog. 

The food again was excellent. this fish sandwich was lovely and again both dishes came with a mountain of fries (Take notice of the fries, it’s important for later). The fish sandwich is up there with one of the best I have had which is why I was so disappointed with the events that followed

Now we also ordered drinks, and this is where the problems began. I am quite fond of a few Sunday afternoon libations so I asked for a chopp (A chopp is draft beer here in Brazil). This is important as I specifically asked for Amstel. During this visit, they had two options for chopp. Amstel and Heineken. Heineken was double the price of Amstel which is why I selected the cheaper option. I ordered three Amstel and on each occasion, the waiting staff repeated my order back as I usually request just to make sure there were no issues with the way I pronounced the words and so the order arrived correctly. 

The waiting staff clearly stated exactly what I had asked for. On each occasion when I asked for my order to be confirmed Amstel was the beverage that was repeated back to me. This was also confirmed by my girlfriend at the time. She is native so has a clear grasp of Portuguese, and mine is more than good enough in a restaurant setting. When the bill arrived however I had been charged for three Heinekens so the price for my beers had doubled. If this had happened once, I could put this down as a simple mistake, but the fact that it happened on three separate occasions even after I asked for confirmation of my order was unacceptable. 

This was raised to the staff, and the waiter said under his breath as he walked off “Well you were drinking Heineken”. This of course irritated me to no end as I clearly asked for a different drink, but eventually, the price was corrected after the protest from the particular staff member in question. 

Gringo Tax

Sometimes there is something called a Gringo Tax here in Brazil and I feel on this occasion I was being targeted by this method to raise the service charge for the waiting staff. This is frowned upon by most Brazilians as they are warm inviting people, and is probably the biggest reason why I have stayed here for so long as I have a deep connection with their openness and their amazing culture. Unfortunately like anywhere you go people will always try and take advantage of tourists. It can and does happen anywhere on this rock we live on hurtling through space. 

Our Third Visit – Sorry I Couldn’t Make It To Dinner. Love From, The Fries. 

Understandably after the experience we had during our last visit, I did not want to return to Polvo Bar. I was still annoyed about the situation involving the beers, but my girlfriend loved the spot so we both decided that the first time was so good, that maybe when my anger had subsided from the events prior we could give it another go. A more than reasonable request so after a few weeks, we both had the craving to visit again, and after some deliberation on my part, we decided to go back and give the place another chance. 

Amstel had now been removed from the menu, and they were only serving Heineken at the higher price point of 14 reais. I am unsure if this is a permanent change or if they had just run out for that day’s service. This isn’t something I particularly mind too much as at least the same problem I had last time won’t occur, but it is a shame they don’t offer a more reasonably priced beer anymore. 

Again my girlfriend ordered the octopus hotdog, and once again I wanted to try something new and selected the shrimp roll. Now each previous time we had ordered a sandwich such as this they came with fries. On this occasion, they did not. When we asked the waiting staff if there had been a mistake we were told they were now sold separately for 15 reais. The issue is the price of the dishes has not changed, Polvo Bar is still charging the same price point for less food. This for me does not reflect good value and as the food at this location is at a fairly high price point anyway it was such a shame that this is now how they operate. Trying to squeeze every last penny from their patron’s grasp. 

Again the food we had was lovely. There has never been any issue with any of the food served to us at Polvo Bar, I can not and will not complain about the standard of the dishes that come out of their kitchen. I believe in fairness and honesty I don’t like to leave bad reviews, but after three visits and two problematic experiences, I felt it was only fair for customers to have all the information they need too before they part with their hard-earned cash. 

Final Thoughts

Polvo Bar had the potential to be something really special. Our first visit was wonderful, but subsequent visits before this left a bad taste in my mouth and not because of the food. Poor service and bad business practices centred around pricing have let this place down massively. 

Unfortunately, until they sort out these issues with the way the restaurant operates I can’t recommend this place to anyone which is such a shame as they started so strongly and the food is not the issue here at all. On our final visit, we paid 173 reais (about 30 pounds) for two sandwiches, a cola and a few beers. As my girlfriend’s mother told us when we explained this to her, “We were robbed at gunpoint”.