So, what is Nando’s? If you live in the U.K. or in the Maryland/Virginia/D.C. area, you can skip to the next paragraph. If you don’t, Nando’s is a casual chicken restaurant chain out of South Africa that has a Mozambique/Portuguese theme. Anyway, the basis of the seasoning of the chicken is the peri peri/African bird’s eye chili, and you can get different heat levels depending on what sauce you want. The chain is immensely popular internationally, especially in the U.K. Nando’s has made its way over here in the above mentioned D.C. area, but the Boffin and I had our chance to experience peri-peri chicken ourselves.
The Nando’s in question just opened last month in Chicago just a couple blocks away from Harpo Studios, home of Oprah Winfrey’s offices, at least until the end of the year. I invited Oprah out for a Cheeky Nando’s, but she was busy planning her next global conquest, so definitely next week, for sure.
Ah, I used the term Cheeky Nando’s. What on earth is that? Many Americans have seen the Britons use this phrase on social media and begged for answers. Of course, many Britons used this opportunity to mess with our heads in response. Can’t say I blame them. Cheeky Nando’s is hard to explain, but I will give it my best shot (and sound really old in the process) in American terms. Say you are hanging out with your friends at the mall or gaming at home, and all of you get hungry. But you don’t want something in the crappy fast food category like McDonald’s. You want to do a “Badass Chipotle”. It’s nonsensical, but it does imply that you are taking a step up in the restaurant food chain when you are going out.
Back to Chicago.
This place looked colorful and inviting. We were greeted promptly. shown to our table, given our menus and the stick with the chicken with our table number on it, and then told we had to get back up to order at the till. This seemed like an unnecessary step. Give us our chicken number stick and direct us to the till. We’re American. We know the drill and know how to make food decisions quickly, even in new places. It’s a minor quibble though.
While we were waiting for our food, I had a look around and admired the decor. My sister-in-law asked me to find out if Nando’s managed to misspell the word “capsaicin,” on its mural, since it seems to be a tradition in the U.K. I am proud to say that the Chicago Nando’s did not misspell “capsaicin” on its mural because it did not bother to use the word in the first place. Either Nando’s gave up trying to spell the word correctly, or they think Americans are too stupid understand it. Either way, I despair.
Our food arrived in about 15 minutes and looked quite appealing. I had the lemon herb 1/4 chicken (breast meat) with the mash and macho peas because I am a heat wuss. The Boffin had the medium (heat) half chicken with the chips and macho peas because he’s the man.
So, what did I think? The chicken was moist, flavorful, and did not burn my mouth off. That 24-hr marinade is a special thing. I consider the “not burning my mouth off” a success because that was my biggest fear going into Nando’s. I was very happy with the butteriness of my potatoes too. The peas were a letdown. They were seasoned with the chili, mint, and parsley, and that was all I could taste. If the cooks could ease up on the flavorings, they could be on to something. The Boffin happily took mine, so I was left with my meat, starch, and the sadness of nothing green. If anyone could recommend a better side for when we go back, I would be glad to hear it.
While we were eating, I had some random philosophical thoughts about Cheeky Nando’s. I was wondering if you could obtain a certain level of cheekiness or just feel cheeky just by eating there. If so, when would this feeling kick in? Would there be a cross-cultural difference between the Boffin feeling cheekiness versus me? So I tried to converse about it with the Boffin, and it boiled down to this:
Me: “Hon, are you starting to feel cheeky yet?”
The Boffin: “I don’t know. I’ll bend over.”
Me: (Sighing) “I forgot. You’re a failed Englishman.”
The Boffin: “Exactly.”
The Boffin is very good at getting on board most of my flights of fancy, but I can’t expect him fly every single one.
On that note, I never did feel cheeky at any point. All I know is that I am in the wrong demographic and have the wrong nationality to have a Cheeky Nando’s, but I can still enjoy the restaurant just the same. Now if I can just convince Oprah to try the frozen yogurt.
Nando’s in Chicago is on 953 W. Randolph St. in the West Loop. There will also be one opening in Lakeview this Wednesday, June 24th, on 670 W. Diversey Parkway.