What to expect from Rio Steakhouse ahead of its opening in Sunderland

The news that Rio Steakhouse is heading to Sunderland has got plenty of mouths watering, with a huge amount of anticipation for its eat-all-you-can offering.

Rio, which is owned by the North East-based Tomahawk brand, has proved a huge hospitality success story.

Since opening its first Brazilian style steakhouse in Jesmond in 2019, which is regularly rated as the top place to eat in Toon, it’s branched out across the region with restaurants at Newcastle Quayside and Middlesbrough and a wave of new openings to come, including the Sunderland branch set to open this autumn in the old Frankie & Benny’s unit in Sunniside.

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The newest Rio is the Durham branch which opened last month in the former Chiquitos in Walkergate and I went along to find out what we can look forward to in Sunderland.

What Sunderland can look forward to when Rio opens its doors

Prices

Rio has a set price for unlimited steak, where the lunch time menu, served 12noon until 3pm, is £22.95 Monday to Friday and £26.95 on Saturdays and Sunday.

The evening menu, served 4.30pm until late is £34.95 from Monday to Sunday and the vegetarian, vegan and fish menu is £18.95 all week.

Kids under five eat free at Rio, while kids aged five to nine eat for £6.95 and kids aged nine to 12 eat for £10.50For that, you can have as much meat and the other hot mains from the non-meat options as you can eat, as well as unlimited trips to the salad bar.

Some of the cuts of meat at the new Rio in Walkergate, Durham City

There’s a traffic light system for ordering of red and green coasters. If your coaster is green, the chefs will keep coming to your table with cuts which are carved at your table rodízio style, a method of eat-all-you-can that’s popular in Brazil – and it’s not difficult to see why.

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Turn the coaster to red and they’ll stop. If you find a second wind, you can always turn it back to green once you’ve had a breather and you can also ask for your favourite cuts to do a return run.

The Food

With this being an eat-all-you-can restaurant, I was dubious as to what the quality of meat would be. I was a Rio newbie, but was really surprised with just how good it is. First off, they ask how you prefer your steak, we chose medium rare, so you get meat that’s cooked to your liking.

The chain operates a 'traffic light' coaster system for ordering
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There’s 14 cuts of meat to fill your boots with altogether – though all but the biggest of meat eaters might struggle to get through them all.

New to the concept, we forgot to turn our coasters to red for a while, so the gaucho chefs kept coming in a whirl of skewers of grilled churrasco meats and knives, expertly shaving cuts at your table. Pretty soon our side plates filled up with sliver upon sliver of prime steak, lamb, chicken and pork.

The hunks of fillet mignon, in particular, were excellent – beautifully tender and moist. I’ve paid around the £30 mark for a whole steak as good as that, and here you get more meat than you shake a stick at. It’s great value for money, considering the quality.

The Bife ancho also had a really satisfying marbling to it, with great flavour. A real meat feast.

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Gaucho chefs carve the meats at your table

Make sure to leave room for the pork too, which includes gammon with grilled pineapple and pigs in blankets – who says they’re just for Christmas?

Aside from the meat, there’s an unlimited salad bar, which is surprisingly good value for money and far removed from the sad looking salad bars you find at chain pubs.

There’s plenty on there: charcuterie, pastas, stew, breads, stuffed peppers, houmous, cous cous, coleslaw, cheese, green salads, sushi and more, with plates constantly replenished. However, you may want to steer clear of the carbs if you want to get your money’s worth of meat.

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Rio isn’t an obvious dining destination for vegans, but for the set price there is three hot options of a daily vegan special, a spicy fajita pasta and a pescatarian selection, as well as unlimited salad bar use.

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Drinks

There's also an unlimited salad bar
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The drinks menu is really substantial, with a large range of soft drinks such as diet Pepsi and traditional Brazilian Guarana Antartica for £3 a pint.

Cocktails are priced from £7.50, with options such as Brazilian Zombie, Margarita, Espresso Martini, Negroni and more.

Beer-wise, there's draught options, such as Peroni and Camden Pale for £4.95 a pint, as well as Brazilian Brahma, priced £4.20 a pint.

There’s also a range of bottles and wines.

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The Service

You serve yourself at the salad bar, a la buffet style, but apart from that the chefs will come to you.

They’re well versed in carving and swift as they shave the cuts for you to pull from the skewer with the tongs provided. With chefs and cuts constantly swirling through the restaurant, it helps to create a real buzz at Rio and a level of theatre you don’t find at more bog standard places.

The restaurants are all in big units too, which makes it ideal for large groups and families, and there was plenty on our visit on a Friday night – it’s a proper party place, whilst also catering well for couples.

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The Decor

In keeping with the Brazilian food theme, the decor is a colourful affair with a palette of blues and greens punctuated with flower walls and motifs of bird of paradise, lotus flowers and more, with stylish gold palm leaf light fittings.

Seating is a mixture of tables for two, studded leather booths and tables that can be put together for the larger groups.

In a nice touch, the staff are also a smartly-dressed bunch, none of your baseball caps and t-shirts at this meat place.

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Work is yet to start on the Sunderland site – though fit outs can happen fast – but it’s expected to follow suit in keeping with this brand which is fast building up a loyal following.

Rio in Walkergate, Durham, is the latest to open its doors
The decor follows the Brazilian theme
The Sunderland Rio is set to transform the old Frankie & Benny's site in Sunniside later this year