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AA Grill can't decide whether he's a breast man or a leg man in a world of spicy birds

Published on January 14th 2010.


IF you like chicken, you'll like Nando's. If you are the kind of person who says, “I can't get enough chicken”, you should go to Nando's. At Nando's, you CAN get enough chicken.

They use barn, not battery, birds, which
is a bit like the difference between spending your life down a coal hole, or spending your life down a coal hole, locked in a cage.
It might not be Cluckingham Palace, but, hey, at least
it's a short life

Actually, you can get rather more chicken than is strictly good for you. Chicken is pretty much all they do, aside from some vegetarian options and the solitary, friendless meat choice – a steak roll.

You can get chicken burger, chicken pittas, chicken wraps, chicken salads, chicken and rice, chicken livers, a quarter portion of chicken, half a chicken, or, if you're feeling really peckish, a whole chicken.

Peckish is something the chickens won't be feeling. If any hens party at Nando's, they are not the sort that wear feathers. All the chicks here are plucked. And if you don't like chicken, you're plucked too.

The décor is tropical rainforest meets BhS home furnishings. Lots of potted plants and sculpted bark. What looked like terracotta quarry tiles beneath us, turned out, on closer inspection, to be no such thing. An avenue of spindly trunks serving as a divider between tables may or may not have been bona fide trees, but they were definitely the thinnest things in the room. The whole effect implored you to embrace the outdoors.

Unless you're a chicken. For the record, they use barn, not battery, birds, which is a bit like the difference between spending your life down a coal hole, or spending your life down a coal hole, locked in a cage. It might not be Cluckingham Palace, but, hey, at least it's a short life.

And in the meantime, Nando's claims to use no GM products or antibiotic growth promoters and to be “actively looking at” free range chicken.

Ordering is not exactly straightforward (it's part self service), and this may not be the best place for anyone slow on the uptake. If you decide on, say, a chicken burger, you can have it on its own, or you can have it with one regular side dish, or you can pay a bit more and have it with two regular side dishes, or one more expensive side dish.

Then, what kind of spice do you want on there? Lemon and herb or mango and lime? Medium? Hot? Extra hot? And don't forget all those bottles of peri-peri sauce over there.

You'll have to get your own plates and cutlery too. Some drinks they bring to you, others you get yourself. If you want a dessert, order it from a waiter, everything else you ask for at the counter. Are you keeping up?

Tip: if there are four of you, and nobody wants the same thing, that's a lot to remember when you go to order, so bring a notepad and pen and write it all down. Just like a waiter might do. But not here.

While I was away ordering, somebody replenished my supply of coffee (fairtrade, organic, Rainforest friendly, and not bad either) leaving my saucer and replacing the cup. Only they didn't put the fresh cup on the saucer; but next to the saucer, which is close but not quite close enough if a career in waiting on is what interests you.

Speaking of which, we spent more than half an hour waiting on the food, brought to us, in the end, by a waitress in a “spicy bird” T-shirt. But it was Saturday lunchtime, which is probably when demand peaks for spicy birds, until such time as Nando's starts opening at 3am.

Nando's USP is peri-peri chicken, peri-peri being the name for a small but viciously fiery brand of chilli and a Portuguese speciality with a wine list to match: six of the whites, and the same proportion of reds, are from Portugal, as are all three roses and two varieties of beer – a pretty impressive tally.

Most of us had variations on the theme – five chicken wings (£4.40), a Nandino under 10s chicken breast burger (£3.95) and a chicken wrap (£6.05), the latter coming with salad leaves, chilli jam and yoghurt mayonnaise.

Flame-grilled in the open kitchen, the chicken was all you could ask of it in the circumstances; moist, tender, with a taste vaguely suggestive of domesticated fowl, but then the more you turn up the heat on the chilli, the less relevant the flavour becomes. Even just hot is described as “still eye-wateringly fiery”; the “medium” heat possessed tongue-tingling properties but nothing to frighten our eight-year-old, while Mrs G's zesty lemon and herb, “barely registering on the heat scale”, was, in fact, “really rather hot. Full of gusto”.

The red meat item on the menu, a Prego Steak Roll (£7.10), was thin, cooked to well done (I wasn't asked), with a pleasant charry flavour and calling for a strong set of teeth – not much choice but plenty to chews.

A portion of rice (£1.85 regular size) was white, spiced, nice; chips (£1.85 regular) were awful; a mixed leaf salad (£3.70) at best matched the English definition of food to be forced down to make you feel better about the skipful of chicken on the side: a couple of rings of red pepper, a pile of anonymous leaves, and cherry tomatoes with a very odd texture that gave the impression of eating a recently-inflated water bomb.

A dark chocolate ice cream (£2.65), came in a freezer-to-table-tub and was pretty rich. Naughty Natas (£1.50), a light, dinky custard tart, was probably the most authentic Iberian item on the menu.

All the time we were there, a constant stream of people queued for the chance to chomp chilli chicken. Multiply that by 213 UK branches and that equals a lot of expired poultry.

The Nando's chain has expanded rapidly in the last few years just like, one imagines, its more regular patrons. This is to be expected from a restaurant that celebrates “great heaps of food”, and offers bottomless fizzy drinks and jumbo platters comprising two whole chickens with five large side dishes, although this is intended for sharing.

After 10 visits you get a whole chicken free, but whether this is in addition to the chicken you have already ordered, I really don't want to think about.

Nando's might be a world away from KFC, but I wouldn't go buckets.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind in the area: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this, the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Don't be daft.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Judge PlattersOctober 16th 2009.

Order in the court!........................Two more dinky custards please.

Peri Peri MasonOctober 16th 2009.

Your honour, we concede that exhibit A does indeed say chicken wigs but let's not split hairs and just keep to the bald facts of the case. This chicken was murdered !

AnonymousOctober 16th 2009.

it clearly says on that handwritten list that the order should be chicken wigs.

Peter PanOctober 16th 2009.

Great review Grill

Rolf HarrisOctober 16th 2009.

I must give Nando's a try. Apparently there are nine branches in Manchester, and the regional menu speciality there is an "alright-cocker"-doodle do

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