Nando’s needs no introduction. This chain of casual dining restaurants takes Portuguese cuisine to a whole new level and proudly serves the meanest flame-grilled chicken money can buy. Starting in 1987, Nando’s now operates in around 24 countries worldwide and there’s no stopping it. The secret of its success is the uniqueness of its Peri-Peri sauce which is the base for almost everything you eat at Nando’s. What is even more interesting is the fact that Nando’s is a cuisine in its own right. “So what do you want to have today? Chinese, Pakistani, Italian, or Nando’s?”. In other words, Nando’s doesn’t have any direct competitors, at least not in Pakistan, which is a huge advantage for the chain.
I have always been a fan of Nando’s and I commend them on their consistency to provide delicious food, their tastefully decorates restaurants and their witty advertising campaigns. I associate this restaurant with a lot of fond memories and a visit there is always nostalgic. Whether it is getting together with friends after ages or celebrating my wedding anniversary, Nando’s is the best place to be. The fact that I can eat with my hands without being judged doesn’t hurt either.
In an attempt to redefine itself, Nando’s has come up with a revamped menu that incorporates most of the regular favorites while adding a bunch of new items that are sure to take your heart away. I was recently invited at a Blogger’s meetup for the launch of their new menu by my friends at Food Connection Pakistan; the evening was spectacular to say the least.
I generally visit the Nando’s that is closest to my place but in this particular instance, I was invited to the Boat Basin restaurant. As I stepped in, I couldn’t help but admire the burst of colors that surrounded me. Everything from the brightly painted wall mural to the art pieces placed all over the restaurant were mesmerizing. I was greeted by a hostess who graciously took me to my table on the first floor. On my way there, I saw some more art pieces that adorned the walls and I felt like I was walking through an art gallery. What made the experience more realistic was the fact that the artists were properly credited; impressive and something worth appreciating.
When I approached my table, I could see that my friends were already there and I was the last one in. Ali from the Nando’s team was our host on this culinary journey we were about to embark on. As I shook hands with everyone, a waiter approached me and asked me if I wanted anything to drink. I requested a Portuguese Lemonade without missing a beat.
After we were all seated, Ali revealed the gorgeous new menus that Nando’s had designed. Featuring original artworks from South African artists, these menus are a sight for sore eyes. They are everything that Nando’s is (bright, bold and authentic) and brilliantly capture the essence of the restaurant.
I told Ali how much I loved the look and feel of this restaurant to which he responded, “Yousuf. We at Nando’s think of our restaurants as museums, where people come to appreciate the creations of up and coming artists. This is our way of celebrating the local culture and the art that originates from here. We curate these pieces from diverse sources including students and community farms. This is what our identity is and this is what we have tried to portray in the new menu design too.”
Next, Ali took us through all the changes and upgrades that had gone into the menu.
“As you can see, we’ve added quite a few things to the menu. There are new entries in the Appeteasers section, namely the Roasted Veg Dip and Altogether Now. We’ve also tried catering to the Chicken Wing lovers by introducing wings as part of our main course. Since people love sharing Nando’s, we’ve added some platters ideal for a group of 2 to 6 people. We’ve incorporated some vegetarian options too, like the Veggie burger/pita sandwich and Caesar salad. To tie it all up, we’ve introduced Corn on The Cob, Fino sides, and Garlic Bread to make your meals even more memorable.”
All this food-talk was making me really hungry and I was sure it was having the same effect on the rest of the diners. What Ali said next was music to my ears.
“To give you a taste of our new offerings, I have taken the liberty of ordering everything for you.”
The buttery Corn on the cob was the very first treat of the night. As I bit into my ‘mild’ corn, I could sense a conflict between the corn’s natural sweetness (highlighted by the butter) and the spice from the peri-peri sauce, the sweet overpowering the spice by miles. Sensing the lack of heat and the fact that I always use the ‘hot’ peri-peri, I drizzled a few drops onto the corn and took another bite. What resulted was an explosion of taste that is hard to define in words and the combination couldn’t have been more intense. I enjoyed the rest of the corn and regretfully moved on to the next dish; a solid 9 out of 10 for me.
Next came the Altogether Now platter, featuring a bowl of Olives, Hummus, and Roasted Vegetable Dip served with Pita Bread. The hummus, as always, was very tasty but the roasted veg dip failed to impress me much as it was a bit under-seasoned. A 7 out of 10 for me on this one.
The Caesar Salad was a revelation. Featuring fresh lettuce leaves with a surprisingly refreshing Caesar dressing, croutons and Parmesan cheese, this dish managed to steal my heart. I would have liked a little more cheese but maybe that’s just me. I’d have it any day of the week and I’d rate this a solid 10 on 10.
Then came the warm aromatic Garlic Bread with grill marks. I couldn’t help myself comparing this with my favorite garlic bread. Even though this bread was fresh and tasted great, I really missed that strong garlicky flavor that it is supposed to have. A reasonable 7 out of 10 for the Garlic Bread.
Fino is Portuguese for ‘posh’ and this is the feeling these sides are supposed to evoke. While the Grilled Veg featured on the right side fail to deliver this feeling, the Sweet Potato Mash on the left hit the ‘posh’ out of the park. Nando’s redefines the concept of ‘mash’ by presenting these cinnamon-flavored chunks of sweet potato with a drizzle of your desired peri-peri heat. The sweetness hits you first when you pop a chunk into your mouth. As it progresses down the tongue, the sour, salty and spicy profiles of the potato hit you and it is suddenly transformed from ‘just a potato’ to a tantalizing delicacy. Just sitting here writing about it makes me want to rush to Nando’s and get a fix. Whereas the Grilled Veg was a disappointing 5, the Mash gets a 10 out of 10 from me.
For the main course, we were offered a selection of one of their breaded options. We could either go for a wrap, a burger or a pita sandwich. As the other two options were Veg and Aubergine-Chicken (I hate Aubergines), I went for a basic grilled chicken breast fillet in a pita. My other friends ordered the same in burger or wrap form. The only exception was Ali, who went for the Aubergine version in a burger. I had ordered my main course with a side of wedges and I dove into them as soon as the platter was placed in front of me. The wedges, as always, were crisp on the outside, tantalizingly soft on the inside. The Pita, however, was a different story. For some reason, I have never found good Pita in Pakistan and the one being served at Nando’s is no exception. While the filling in the pita was outstanding, the Pita itself was thick, damp, and soggy, owing to the absorption of all the tasty juices from the filling; I wish I would have tried the wrap or the burger variant but it was too late and I was too full. I gave the pita sandwich an 8 on 10; had the pita been thin and dry, I would have gladly bumped it up to a 10.
When Ali offered dessert, we politely declined; if I say ‘No’ to the Nando’s chocolate cake, I have to be really REALLY full.
Restaurants willing to re-discover themselves and open to incorporate customer feedback are truly appreciated. Nando’s has done just that and I must say it is a bold and exciting initiative. Even though I miss the old hard-bound menu that had these ‘one-liners’ Nando’s is famous for, I’m impressed by what they have done to the menu. As with any change, there are a few hits and a few misses, but in this particular case, Nando’s delivers most of these with a bang.
As for the pricing, there are some items on the menu that fail to deliver value for money, for instance the Caesar Salad and the Grilled Veg, but overall, Nando’s pricing is consistent with a lot of other fine dining restaurants across Pakistan. A per-head cost comes up to around 600 to 800 PKR per person which is slightly expensive, but worth what you get in terms of taste. Everything tastes good with Peri-Peri and the sauce is a permanent entry on my grocery list. If you want to get a taste of what Nando’s has to offer, I recommend you get some of their sauce and try making something around it.
Finally, I’d like to thank the entire Nando’s team for having us over and sharing this evening with us. The team was exceptional, professional and made sure we all had a great time!