I’m a little late in boarding the Nando’s train. Despite the South African franchise having been here since 2010, and me having watched enough Mock the Week to have had a steady diet of Nando’s references.
So having checked out an outlet at Tanglin Mall as part of their outreach, I got a sense of the origins surrounding its ubiquity. While eminently satisfying, there’s nothing inherently exceptional about the simple fare. It’s a simple formula that’s done well, complete with a media-friendly corporate story that highlights its support for South African farmers (particularly for chilli farms) and artists. And you can find works from the latter scattered all over the restaurant.
Part of the reason for Nando’s outreach was a gentle reminder that their limited edition hot sauce–the VusaXX Hot flavour–was still ongoing. Like its other sauces, it’s made to a traditional recipe comprising of African Bird’s Eye Chilli, fresh lemon, garlic, onion, oil and herbs, but it is notably their spiciest hot sauce to date, measuring around 175,000 Scoville units.
Even when generously slathered all over their winglets and drumlets, I really hadn’t thought it to be much of a challenge and having the first one didn’t change my mind one bit. Halfway through the second wing, however, all illusions of being impervious to pain fell apart all too quickly–so this is how they get you. The chilli is a slow burner that ‘luls’ (pun intended) one into a false sense of security. Things escalate pretty quickly once you start pushing your luck, shoving more chicken down your throat. Still, I’m pretty sure you’d want to come back for more.
But if the idea of pain for pain’s sake doesn’t quite appeal to you, there’s always the tried and tested grilled PERi-PERi chicken and all the PERi-PERi sauces, ranging from mild to spicy, that your tummy can handle. It’s funny how that simple sauce recipe offers McDonald’s hash brown levels of addictiveness. Top it up with either the Spiced Rice or Signature Rice for sides; they do make good bedfellows.
But what really completes the experience are the bottomless add-ons in the form of free-flow drinks (+$4.20) or froyos (+$4.80). And for a limited time, the 1/4 chicken with bottomless drinks and bottomless chips or rice goes for just $17.90 (+$2 for free-flow froyo). Nando’s offers student meals too, which include bottomless drinks and start as low as $11. And that probably helped to explain a nagging familiarity about the restaurant that I couldn’t quite place earlier.
In my younger days, our idea of a treat was a day out at a Sizzlers; or a Swensens if we felt really baller. We didn’t need to be Jonathan Gold to know that we weren’t taking our first steps into the gastronomic rabbit hole (nor should it be the only steps worth taking). Yet there was nowhere else we wanted to be–a nice meal, drinks for days and good company. I guess Nando’s checks all the same boxes with its fast food/full-service hybrid vibes. Chilli and chicken, who could say no?