Cheeky Nando’s, Loughborough, September 2016

I’ve been talking a lot about chains recently, with three posts in August looking at various chains. During the visit to The Moon & Bell, I mentioned the arrival of several new chains in town. The¬†American citizen-confusing meme machine that is Nando’s is just one of them.¬†If you missed the BuzzFeed article I’m referring to, or you too have no idea what a cheeky Nando’s is, enlightenment awaits here…

Nando’s has a history that confuses most. Because they self-style as a chain with food from Portugal and Mozambique (a former Portugese colony), most people think they come from Portugal. Nando’s comes from South Africa (good pub quiz question that), when a Portugese born audio engineer took a friend out for some piri piri chicken at a local restaurant. In a Victor Kiam style, they liked it so much, they bought the restaurant and renamed it.

What? My Victor Kiam reference passed you by too?

It’s a chicken restaurant. Wall to wall chicken dominates the menu. Wings, quarter chicken, half a chicken, chicken thigh burger, chicken breast burger, chicken wraps, chicken pittas. Chicken everywhere. There are a couple of beef options, some salads and three different vegetarian burgers. Mostly though, a lot of chicken. Here is a chicken burger with a side salad:-

Part two of the Nando’s experience comes next. You select the peri peri sauce that you want your food marinated/cooked in. There are five levels:-

Extra mild – no added spice
Mild – lemon & herb, mango & lime – the tastiest ones
Medium – a touch of spiciness
Hot – described as “highly combustible, proceed with caution”
Extra hot – “like tackling a ferociously fiery dragon” says the blurb

A chilli sauce (peri peri is an African bird’s eye chilli) is quite a subjective thing. There are so many out there now just designed to be scorchingly hot without any real thought about flavour. I do like a good chilli. Last year I mentioned the joy of eating nachos with whole roasted chillis in the Swan “beer car park”. Very tasty. Chillis should not be about stupid heat, but warming flavours.

Nando’s think theirs are stupidly hot. They are not. They are tasty sauces with a decent hit of capsaicin to invigorate the taste buds. If chilli is not your thing, stay down at the low end of the spectrum. If you like a little warmth, go for the extra hot. It’s perfectly pleasant, and nothing like that fiery dragon in the description. Everyone in our group tried it (and I’m probably the only real chilli head) and no-one’s mouth exploded with fire.

If you are not a frequenter of the chilli, stay down the lower end of the scale, but if you like a nice chilli warmth, you can go straight in at the top without fear. It has plenty of flavour.

One other thing that you won’t find in most places, is this beer from Mozambique. It’s nothing to write home about particularly, just light and refreshing, which works with the spicy fun on the plate. If I was in charge, there would be some big hoppy beasts to take on the chilli, but it’s just lagers and a poor cider. Like I said, it’s all about the chicken.

Just time for a final story. We had just sat down after ordering (you take yourself off to the till to place your order). Our lovely waitress was bringing over some glasses (to fill up at the soft drinks machine) and some beers. A glass was balanced on a bottle. Balance was lost and the glass shattered everywhere, with some beer being spilt. No-one was hurt, apart from some waitressing pride.

We were moved to the next table whilst they cleared up, and when they brought our food out they offered us extra drinks and side dishes from the menu to make up for the incident, so we sampled some peri-salted chips (nice) and “macho peas” which are peas with mushy peas, parsley, mint and chilli.

Unexpectedly good service that, and one of the reasons why I’d be happy to go back for another cheeky Nando’s…