There’s something for little kids and big ones, too — as long as you like chicken — when you try the Nando’s experience, says Kate Ginn
If you have children, the chances are that you are already well acquainted with the delights of Nando’s and every other restaurant that comes under the “child-friendly” umbrella.
Even if you don’t have little ones, you’ve probably still had a meal there. It’s not a prerequisite to have children to eat in Nando’s, although it certainly does help if you want to fully immerse yourself.
Funnily enough, my dining companions – a friend and her tween daughter – had never stepped inside a Nando’s, whereas I, the childless one, am a veteran of its menus.
Never heard of Nando’s either? Let me give you the lowdown. It’s a South African restaurant group (from Johannesburg) influenced by Portugal and on a mission, so they say, to take the best-tasting chicken to the world.
This isn’t any old chicken – this fowl has been elevated to new levels thanks to the authentic PERi-PERi sauce, a spice also known as “African bird’s-eye chilli”. It will, so the saying goes, put fire in your belly and ignite passion in your soul.
You might recognise the famous Nando’s logo, the Barceló’s Cockerel, quite a handsome chap who hails from Portugal and is, apparently, a symbol of faith, justice and good fortune. Google him, there’s a sweet little fable about him.
Nando’s is usually sited in or near a mall, all the better to snare hungry shoppers laden down with bags and/or children and looking for a way out of having to cook dinner that evening.
The one in City Centre Muscat – there’s another at Qurum Commercial Complex – was a case in point, bustling with trade when we arrived after 9pm in need of a serious refuel after some intensive retail action.
Now, hungry and tired can be an explosive combination in an 11-year-old girl, as you may well know. She needed feeding – and quick.
While we browsed the menus, I enjoyed people watching. This Nando’s is open-fronted, so you can watch the world go by and vice versa. Not everyone likes the idea of being gawped at as they eat but I quite like the sense of being part of mall life. It’s like having a front-row seat.
As expected, the restaurant was filled with families, making the noise level high, but comfortable.
Nando’s generic décor is easy on the eye, if a little kitsch, with a touch of the Mediterranean in the design along with Portuguese art. There are earthy textures and colours to reflect the Afro-Portuguese heritage.
The premise of Nando’s is simple. You decide what chicken you want (plain or with add-ons) and how you would like it (in a burger, pita or wrap). Then it’s all about how spicy you want the sauce. Scaredy cats can go for mild lemon and herb on a PERi-ometer scale that goes up the way up to extra hot for the masochists.
Whatever you go for, the chicken has been marinated overnight and then flame-grilled to lock in the flavour.
Once the tween had worked out the menu, she went for chicken with cheese in a wrap with lemon and herb sauce, plus a side of fries. Her mum went for the more daring espetada, a typical Portuguese kebab served on an upright metal skewer, with sides of spicy rice and corn on the cob. Yours truly turned up the heat with chicken in a pita with the mild sauce.
A starter of hummus dip with warm pita went down very nicely. The dip was creamy with a nice swirl of hot sauce providing an occasional hit of heat at the back of the throat.
A veggie dip at another table looked equally impressive. We also had a chicken wing each to get in the mood for bird.
Nando’s is all about the chicken. If you’re a purist, you can get a hunk of chicken – or a whole bird – without any of the other fuss.
Tween devoured her wrap and pronounced it “awesome” (her favourite adjective) and I was equally happy with my pita. It was nothing spectacular, but good, honest, tasty food is exactly what customers at Nando’s want.
Tween’s mum was not so enamoured with her espetada, finding it fiddly to eat, but she made a good attempt at finishing it. The spicy rice was fine but the corn on the cob was, sadly, overcooked and a little tough.
By now, the noise was ratcheting up as sugar, fizzy drinks and lots of chicken got into the bloodstreams of the younger customers. A few ankle biters were on the move around the restaurant, while two others were exercising their lungs. But you don’t go to Nando’s expecting absolute quiet – the raucous atmosphere is all part of the fun.
Stuffed, we managed to squeeze in a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake – the standout dish for me – and a seriously chocolatey pudding, which overwhelmed even the sweet-toothed tween.
As we left, more families with offspring of assorted ages were arriving to taste the home-from-home comforts. As the Portuguese say, minha casa é sua casa, or “our home is your home”.
Great for children
City Centre Muscat, first floor, As Seeb, Muscat
Tel: 2456 1818
Opening times: 11am-12am daily
Dinner for three (one child): RO31.9
Y Magazine reviews anonymously and pays for its meals