I was discussing dinner with my girlfriend the other night. “Where do you want to eat?”, I asked. “Nando’s”, she said. I tell her I don’t want to eat in Nando’s, but she does, so we compromise and go to Nando’s. It’s how all sucessful relationships work, I’m told. Plus it can’t be that bad, right? I mean Ed Sheeran and Example wrote a song about it and those two are the height of cool. And it’s always full, with the queue extending out of the door of the Bullring branch on the afternoon we go. Everyone loves a cheeky Nando’s. Except me, who hasn’t been to one in over a decade despite living on the stuff in my late teens.
I feel old just by being here. It’s not the clientele who don’t know better, or the torturous method of ordering at a till and repeating your order over and over and over again to a man who clearly has no interest. I think its the attempt at comedy which veers from downright lame (‘Piri-piri nuts. WARNING: may contain traces of nuts’) to the leching adulterous (‘cheat on your old flame with a spicy new dish’). Please, just fuck off and give me chicken and a large glass of overly-expensive red wine. That wine is awful by the way: maybe the worst I’ve tried from Portugal, which is saying something if you’ve ever tried the tinto in ASDA.
The menu is a kaleidoscope of child friendly colours, spoken in a language that appeals to the type of teenager who sees eating here as a prequel to a night of fingering behind a skip. It has grown a lot from when I remember it, expanding on the burgers and adding ‘fino’ options, which Google translate tells me means ‘up’ and presumably explains the price hike for a sorry bowl of sweaty veg. I have an extra hot fino pitta with peri-peri fries, Claire goes for the chicken breast and two of those fino sides. She takes her bird in hot, which is a relief, because I would have had to leave her had she ordered lemon and herb.
It has suceeded in not changing in a decade. The meat on that breast is still on the dry side and tastes of very little, whilst the fries are still truly awful and cant be saved by any amount of any of their sauces. From the new stuff I admire them for sticking thigh meat in the pitta because the fat content means it has retained some moisture, even if the halloumi has been welded to it by some form of voodoo. I get none of the promised aioli, a little of the red onion relish, and a lot of lettuce. Whisper it, but it is alright for £7.20. The same cannot be said for the chargrilled veg that bring back the horrors of Sorrento Lounge, or the watery sweet potato mash.
We dont have dessert because ice cream or cake must be the most half-arsed attempt at retaining customers I’ve ever seen. Considering that nobody made any effort to see how our food was at any point in the meal, I never hated it, because it is almost impossible to hate. They don’t need to care how the food is because the big boys in Nando’s head office have created a machine that churns out consistently average chicken tens of thousands of times a day across the country, by pre-cooking the chicken in an oven and removing the danger from the minimum wage grill operators. It is the epitomy of a chain restaurant; the ideal business model for anyone looking to make a large buck from the average eater. It may take me another ten years to return to here, but to those who know no better, you keep on being cheeky.
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