Never one to turn down Nando’s famous Peri Peri chicken, I was more than happy to join my friend in trying out the Northampton venue for the first time.
It’s something of a Friday night ritual for him, and the fast-food-come-casual-restaurant chain is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.
The Portuguese restaurant has done well to pick a prominent position in the town centre, in Wood Hill, behind All Saints Church, and through the floor length windows you can see it is always busy, particularly at weekends with shoppers, cinema-goers, young dating couples or friends before a night out.
All Nandos operate a no booking policy, so arriving at 8pm we expected there to be a little queue.
We were greeted immediately by a friendly waiter, who explained there was indeed a short wait, but only 15 minutes.
We were pleased to hear that he didn’t mind saving our place in the queue while we popped round the corner for a drink (as they don’t have their own bar area). Impressively, the waiter even went as far as to synchronise watches with us so there was no confusion.
We were taken straight to our table on our return and reminded of the protocol to choose from the menu and order at the bar, collecting your own knives and forks, sauces and soft drinks on your way back while the food would be brought over to you once it was ready.
We started with a generous portion of pita bread and red pepper dip with (mild) chilli (£3.25), which to my friend’s confusion had arrived at our table before I had even returned from placing our order, with a cheeky waiter who told me I had probably ordered too much, but “why not? It is the weekend, ” he added.
As we were working/footballing the following morning, we stuck to soft drinks which come with endless refills for a set price (£2.25), however the refills do have to be made yourself at the machines, while other drinks are ordered at your table and brought over to you.
The menu, although featuring a few vegetarian and beef options, is totally geared towards its speciality of flame-grilled chicken which has made Nando’s name.
There are a number of child friendly options, including chicken burgers and pitas.
We both went for the double chicken breast (over the quarter, half or whole chicken), and while I love spicy food and went for a hot peri peri sauce, my more mild-tempered friend opted for the lemon and herb.
Alongside the chicken you can choose one large side or two smaller sides for a set price of £9.90. I went for spicy rice and coleslaw and my friend swapped the coleslaw for ‘macho peas’, a pea mash with mint and chilli – which I was envious of when it arrived.
The food came quickly and was exactly what you’d hope for from a speciality chicken restaurant, tender, fresh and expertly cooked with delicious marinades.
There is definite emphasis on the word fresh, with the food prepared in an open kitchen to order. This is one of the key elements of the chain, which I think equates to its success.
The large portions went easily enough alongside our shared starter, but we had ordered two extra sides to try including Lusco Beans (£3.55), a new dish of slow cooked black beans and cherry tomatoes with smoked paprika and red onion, which quickly became my favourite.
The Sweet Potato Mash (£3.55) was good, but in this context I could take it or leave it.
After the main course diners are able to chose desserts from their table, which was welcome news for us after such a large meal.
To top off the evening we decided to share the new Gooey Caramel Cheesecake (£3.95) but it had already sold out for the evening. It wasn’t that unfortunate, as it had been a close toss up with the Choc-a-Lot Cake (£3.95), which was wonderfully rich, indulgent and for which I suddenly found plenty of room.
The quirky wooden decor with poems written on the wall and lively Portuguese-inspired music creates a fun, relaxed atmosphere, which was an ideal setting for our casual meal.
The half-self-service and half-waiter-service is a slightly strange concept to get used to at first, but it does work well and doesn’t intrude on the eating out experience, and for the quality of food vs. cost, it’s a fair sacrifice. You really can’t fault the price of the food.
I mentioned earlier that Nando’s was a ‘guilty’ pleasure, and I say guilty because it’s hardly a daring restaurant choice.
But it doesn’t intend to be, instead its mastered a casual, evening restaurant atmosphere, along with an easy but delicious menu that could tempt even the hardened foodie, topped off with friendly, attentive waiters.
The total for the meal came to £38.60.
By Emma Clark
Nando’s 3 Wood Hill
Northampton, NN1 2DA