The Dish Detective was pretty sure that he – or is it she? – was not going to be allowed into Nando’s.
Not for being drunk, naked or – God forbid – obnoxious. No, simply because we weren’t quite cool enough. We thought we knew what the clientele would be like. They’d be young, ripped from the gym, and be wearing cheap-looking but expensively-priced shirts. Or they’d be in short skirts and improbable heels, and regardless which of the above two categories they fell into, there’d be pungent perfume and plenty of jewellery on show. They’d be loud and confident and, above all, fashionable.
The Dish Detective is none of those things. The Dish Detective just likes a decent meal and doesn’t often like shelling out lots of cash. The Dish Detective is here to serve you. And is a little bit greedy.
So, summoning up all the courage we could find, we set off to Fareham to see what the ballyhoo about this chicken chain was all about, although the Dish Detective has far too much class to ever refer to that night as going for a ‘cheeky Nando’s’.
Anyway, the first thing we noticed, on a wet and cold Tuesday night in Market Quay, was just how busy it was. It’s a decent-sized restaurant, and one in which the majority of tables were taken. The second thing that became obvious was how slick an operation it is. The decor is subtle, easy on the eye without being bland, generic without seeming bargain basement.
The music isn’t too loud – it keeps your conversation private from the next table, but doesn’t mean you have to shout at your dining companion.
And the staff are well-trained. They’re attentive, but not overly so. It’s relaxing being in there – and we also didn’t feel underdressed. So far so good.
This won’t be news to those familiar with Nando’s, but for us uninitiated, it’s worth explaining how the system works. First of all you choose your food, whether a burger, a wrap, a plate of wings or an entire roast chicken, and how many, if any, side dishes you’d like with it. Then you decide how spicy you would like it, using their clumsily-named peri-ometer; it ranges from extra mild –dubbed plain-ish – to extra hot, which is likened to tackling a ferociously fiery dragon, and if you’d like to go even higher, there are plenty of dangerous-looking bottles of orange sauce around to spice your meal further.
I went for a sunset burger on the hottest setting, with a side of peri chips, while my companion had five chicken wings at a medium spice rate, with spicy rice and corn on the cob on the side. After choosing, you go to the bar, order and it’s brought out. It may seem a touch confusing at first, with many bits to remember, but the system works well.
As well as the many varieties of chicken, there are also veggie burgers, with mushrooms and halloumi aplenty, and several salads which involve quinoa and other grains and pulses. There’s steak too, but really the focus is on the chicken, and rightly so – because it’s very good.
They know what they’re doing. The meat is good quality, and does not taste as if it has been injected with water like cheaper chicken cuts do. I opted for the highest peri-peri spice level and it’s hot, but nothing to be scared of, and adds to, rather than obliterates, the taste of the chicken.
The chicken wings are greasy, as chicken wings should be, but not in a way that makes you feel queasy. It’s fast food, sure, but feels like a proper meal, as opposed to other national chains where you might be lovin’ the food a little less. We spent £25 between two, including one glass of wine and one soft drink, and it becomes clear. The reason that Nando’s has become ubiquitous on high streets isn’t because it’s a youth cult, or because of internet branding, or a trend in fashion – it’s simply because it’s good.
Tel: 01329 829680
(ratings out of 5)