If it’s not the Year of the Chicken, it should be. Fried chicken and waffle entrées now make daily appearances on Edmonton menus; KFC—that’s Korean-Fried Chicken—is all the K-poppy rage, and comin’ round the bend at pop ups, diners, and restaurants, is a full blown southern fried chicken revival. In fact, chicken is such a hot ticket right now, fellow food snoop, Phil Wilson, recently dedicated three posts to finding the best battered bird bits in the city.
The focus, yes, has been on fried fowl, but newcomer, Nando’s, with its Afro-Portuguese heritage, is here to offer up a new kind of bird—a zesty, PERi-PERi-sauced, made-to-order, fresh-never-frozen, flame-grilled Afro-Portuguese chicken. Nando’s has opened a thousand outlets world-wide since setting up the first restaurant in 1987. Edmonton’s outlet on Gateway Boulevard opened in February of 2016 and judging by the lineups, I’d say Edmontonians are embracing the flavour and stellar marketing that has made Nando’s so famous.
The restaurant space can be described as cheery, with bold accent colours and South African wall art. The restaurant’s modus operandi is described as ‘fast casual’: after being greeted by a hostess, you are taken to a table and given a menu; you then go up to the counter, specify what you want, return to your table and wait for your food—which is delivered in fairly short order.
What’s on the menu? Chicken, chicken, and more chicken: on sliders, in sandwiches and wraps, or added to salads. You can have it on platters, on skewers; you can order wings, even livers. To round out the bird bonanza, sides of potatoes (regular and sweet) can be had along with peas, beans and a vegetable medley. There are also ‘appeteasers’: dips, nuts, olives and bread.
What I tried:
The chicken wings, described as ‘whole’ are smaller than what you might expect. I could detect the marinade flavour even though I chose ‘hot’ for my heat level but overall, the wings weren’t anything to squawk about. You can order wings in numbers of three, five or 10 and like all the chicken on the menu, in flavours of plain…ish, lemon & herb, medium, hot or extra hot.
If you’re chicken about spicy food, go with plain…ish; if you don’t mind some spice, go for the medium; if you’re a trooper, order the hot and if you’re a ‘Mach II with your hair on fire’ type, choose extra hot. Extra sauces are on the table so you can kick up your dishes as many notches as you like. Nando’s PERi-PERi sauce is known for having depth of flavour made possible by the supporting cast of herbs, spices, lemon and garlic.
The nuts don’t need any heat added. They’re a fiery bunch and would go well with a nice cold beer. The hummus, on the other hand, needed help. Help was available in a tiny bottle although I took it out and forgot to use it. Not sure if it would’ve saved this dismal dip though. It was soupy and missing everything that makes hummus wonderful: garlic, lemon, salt, tahini and olive oil. The pita was dry, tough and boring and not made in house (along with the hummus) like I was initially told.
Sliders are available with roasted portobello mushroom and halloumi cheese but the chicken sliders with a zippy chilantro/chilli dressing were a satisfying choice.
Nando’s makes a gutsy move by offering chicken livers on the menu. The flavour of marinade overrides the metallic tang of the livers. Probably a good thing.
Dark meat is juicier and has more flavour than white meat—as is the case here. The lemon herb sauce is described as “a mere hint of heat but a tidal wave of flavour.” They’re right about the heat but they’re taking descriptive liberty with the tidal wave part. The sweet potato was not overly sweet made better by a sesame-herb creamy dressing.
The white meat was surprisingly not dry, so if you prefer white meat, you’ll be happy with it here. The coleslaw, however, will not make you happy unless you’re fond of mass-made, supermarket-style slaw found in any store any where on the planet.
The pastéis de nata (Portuguese tarts) fared better.
The tarts were, maybe—quite possibly—the best part of the meal, although not as good as the fresh-baked, warm tarts from one of the Portuguese bakeries on 118 Avenue. At Nando’s the tarts are good but they, along with everything else, wouldn’t have me rushing back for more, and that pretty much sums up my whole experience. The ‘never frozen, always fresh, flame-grilled chicken made to order’ is a great idea, but not a great experience, overall. Perhaps dousing the various chicken pieces in one of Nando’s bottled sauces would’ve made a difference. Or, maybe not.
Nice art on the walls, though.
You can listen to my CBC Edmonton AM review with Mark Connolly here, and you can find Nando’s at 4228 Gateway Blvd, Edmonton.