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As those of you who know me personally know, yesterday was my lovely girlfriend Fallon’s birthday (check out her blog here by the way) and my gift to her was a fancy dinner out at a restaurant of her choosing. Over the course of our relationship I’ve come to understand and appreciate her love for the Latin culture. She’s turned me from an occasional eater of tacos or nachos into somebody who appreciates a good pico de gallo, loves the humble black bean, and struggles to look past an ice cold Dos Equis with a wedge of lime in the neck. Hell, she even had me taking Spanish lessons with her earlier this year so I could broaden by vocabulary beyond Tengo un gato en mes pantalones and Los ochos banditos tienen mi hombre. Estoy rabioso!

Points to whoever knows what I said there.

So, we donned our Sunday best. In Fallon’s case this was a brand new outfit she’d spent the better part of two weeks putting together and in my case it was borrowing a shirt and jacket from our housemate, Grant. I have just one suit with me in Sydney and it’s this fetching number.

Even I can't pull off this look

I think we cut a far finer looking couple for her big night. After posing for the photo to the right, we boarded the train downtown and made our way to our destination – Vivaz! The restaurant had caught Fallon’s eye after being included as one of the potential venues for her work Christmas party – and while she’d immediately been intrigued by the idea of a salsa restaurant with a churrasco buffet and sangria by the jug.

Yes, I feel awkward dressed up

Right off the bat I could tell that Vivaz was a place that catered to a different crowd than a couple out for a romantic dinner for two. The group directly in front of us sported the faux horns and matching t-shirts of a group of girls out on a hen’s night, and we quickly spotted another two tables of girls out with their friends for one last hurrah. If the matching outfits hadn’t given it away, the penis shaped drink bottles and various kinds of S&M accouterments made it pretty obvious.

The staff were polite as they showed us to our table, and if the crowd hadn’t confirmed my suspicions, the tiny table and plastic chairs wedged against a supporting pillar certainly did. Not that it was a major issue to squeeze in between the two groups of loud bachelorettes. We were both in a good mood and the party atmosphere of the place was actually pretty infectious. Sure, it was a tad annoying to contend with people shuffling behind you constantly, but I somehow doubt you’d find that personal space would be a common thing while dining in a genuine restaurant in Brazil or Mexico.

The cocktail list looked impressive, but Sydney prices of $14 turned me off the idle thought of ordering a daiquiri or mohito for myself. Instead, we contented ourselves with sticking to tradition and ordering a big jug of sangria. At $21 for the jug, it definitely presented better value than a cocktail – and we actually found ourselves struggling to finish it before we left an hour later.

As far as sangria goes it was pretty good, and the addition of chopped apple was a nice touch. Fallon was a bit disappointed that it lacked the more traditional fruits – but it certainly hit the spot.

Oh, a note for potential diners – have your credit card or cash at the table. Although you pay for your meal before you leave – you’ll need to pay for your drinks as you order them.

After our drinks had arrived, we snatched up plates and made for the buffet. The scent of the fantastic tequila BBQ sauce had been tempting me since we’d walked in, but I had to make my way past the salads before I’d be able to sample its deliciousness.

The buffet is a tad pricey at $45, but the spread is impressive and there’s plenty of selection. I was particularly impressed with the rich, spicy chili; the selection of salads and dressings; and the fantastic selection of meats. In addition to some wonderful beef and pork cuts, there were also spicy chicken wings, and a particularly tasty fish dish. By the time we’d finished our first plates and made our way back for a second tilt, they’d also mixed things up a little with the addition of a few new salad options and some churizo sausages.

Did I eat $45 worth of food? Almost definitely not. But it was a satisfying and delicious meal.

Unfortunately by the time we’d finished eating the live band had ceased playing salsa music and it had been replaced with chart dance and pop music, which put a dampener on our plans to do a little dancing. With a belly full of food and sangria though, I was actually a little relieved.

We decided to pass on dessert, which was probably the only unimpressive part of the evening. Fruit salad and an unappetizing looking chocolate mousse didn’t exactly stir anything in my stomach.

But the food was good, the atmosphere was fantastic (particularly while the band was playing), and the sangria was good value. And while our table didn’t afford a great view of it – I’m sure the lucky ones near the window would have appreciated the stunning view of the Opera House.

As a romantic night out, Vivaz probably isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. It’s loud and not particularly romantic, but it has plenty of good food and a good selection of booze. For a fun night out with a special someone or a good night out with a group of friends, it’s definitely a place I’d go again.



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