Over the last couple weeks the legend of a new suburban chicken outpost has been growing… A legend of a new and exotic kind of chicken, Peri-Peri chicken. People boasted of having eaten this chicken in the city, and bragged of its greatness. But what WAS this Peri-Peri chicken? Happily, I did not have to wait very long to try the new and mysterious dish.
For my first expedition, I was invited to join three other people for lunch on the last day of the soft opening. Feeling like a VIP, I decided to do some research on the place so I knew what to expect. I learned that Nando’s features old-school fusion food – a spicy, flavorful (and sometimes hot) style of cooking that was invented by Portuguese settlers who were living in Mozambique a long time ago. The settlers cooked dishes from their homeland but used the ingredients they had at hand, including piri-piri chilis from which the Peri-Peri name evolved. I also learned that the Nando’s empire started in South Africa in 1987 with one small storefront serving the popular chicken with the even more popular Peri-Peri sauce. Nando’s evolved quickly into international restaurant concept that has grown to span 34 countries on 5 continents. The restaurants are known for blending casual dining with the feel of a sit-down place. Having exhausted the website that I was using as my primary source, I was ready for lunch!
Upon arrival at the Silver Spring location of Nando’s Peri-Peri, we were greeted by a cheery hostess who ushered us through a sleek but warm dining room to a cozy table in the back. Menus were handed out and directions were given. Yes, directions… you will need them the first time you visit… it can get a little confusing. Take time to peruse the menu at the table, and when you (and your group) are ready, walk up to the counter to order (and pay for) your meal. An extremely cheerful cashier walked us through our orders… helping each person chose appetizers, entrees, sides, beverages (YES they have wine and beer), and desserts.
Once we ordered our food we were pointed towards a central island where we could wash our hands (!! germaphobes rejoice !!), pick up silverware, sauces of choice, and fill fountain sodas. The food was brought to the table by attentive and cheerful servers, I should note that everyone we dealt with was decidedly peppy. The servers and bussers were quick to inquire if we needed anything, and were proactive in their service – One young man accidentally hit the top of my friends straw with his hand as he was serving a plate. He rushed back to the table with a fresh straw before the owner of the old straw knew what had happened. Thoughtful!
We started with the Peri-Peri Nuts, Spicy Mixed Olives and Hummus with Peri-Peri dirzzle. The spiced nuts were a hit, the tiniest bit hot and sweet, they are fun to snack on while waiting for the rest of your food. The marinated olives were not as well received… they seemed strangely vinegary instead of briney as one would expect. A late appetizer arrival – the Hummus was pleasant, served with nice warm bread and a tiny bottle of the eponymous sauce to drizzle over the chickpea spread.
Three of the four of us opted for the Peri-Peri chicken. How could we pass up the main attraction? We were not disappointed – rewarded with chicken that was well seasoned and juicy with subtly crispy skin. At the suggestion of one of my friends, I ordered the chicken plain (still very flavorful from the marinade), then chose a few of the sauces up from the island and experimented with them at the table. The sauces range from herbaceous to H-O-T, and I enjoyed being able to try several of them while deciding which one I liked best (the jury is still out).
While the grilled chicken is the star at Nando’s, there are other menu options including salads and sandwiches featuring steak, chicken livers, or vegetarian options (yes, the peri-peri chicken is available on a sandwich or salad as well). The fourth member of our group opted for a steak sandwich (med. rare). It was served on a Portuguese roll with lettuce, tomato and a nice looking piece of New York Strip steak (note that it arrived Medium Rare as ordered!). Were I not on a mission to try the chicken, I would have been strongly tempted.
For sides, I ordered the pea mash and grilled halloumi chees. They were both really nice – The peas were sweet, fresh and tender – beautifully cooked and nicely seasoned. The salty grilled halloumi cheese was the perfect foil to the peas – adding a little kick of briny salt that I had wished for with the olives. Other side dishes ordered at the table included mashed potatoes (which were described as “Buttery” and “Delicious”) and Cole Slaw which was deemed to be a standard creamy cole slaw, but was nothing special. The menu features even more side dishes including Portuguese Rice, Corn on the Cob, Fries, or Salad. A number of tempting desserts are also available if you have room.
Upon reflection, I can say that the much hyped food was very good indeed. It was not life changing as some would lead you to believe, but it was really good. Nando’s is worth a visit not only for the fresh and healthful food, but for a refreshing change of pace.