Monday, February 08, 2016

Eating up the Hill: Nando's peri-peri chicken

I ventured off the Hill for lunch on Monday to satisfy my craving for Portuguese chicken -- but, in fairness, downtown Ottawa's newish Nando's franchise is located in the James Michael Flaherty Building at Elgin and Albert, which houses the Ministry of Finance. So it's still in the political food district.

Nando's is apparently a very popular international franchise -- kind of like a Portuguese Swiss Chalet (via South Africa) -- but I'd never been to one before coming to Ottawa. Or seen any of their Toronto locations. So I had to give it a try.

It's kind of a hybrid casual dining/fast food operation. You enter the restaurant through the wide open door (despite it being -10C or so outside; their heating bill must be crazy) and are seated by a hostess who leaves you with a menu. After you decide what you'd like, you go up to the cashier and place your order. You're given a glass to pour your drink at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, retrieve your own napkins and cutlery, and grab a bottle of peri-peri sauce if desired, and take it all back to your seat. When your food is ready, they deliver it to you.

Restaurant: Nando's Chicken
Dish: 1/2 chicken with corn on the cob, spiced rice, and a soft drink
Price: $20.23 (with tax, before tip)

Feeling hungry having skipped breakfast, I saunter up to order a half chicken with medium spice, and select spiced rice and corn on the cob (corn is healthy, right?) as my sides. I take my glass over to the freestyle machine and navigate directly to Cherry Diet Coke. I'm a Coke Freestyle veteran. I long ago learned that, while there are hundreds of combinations, most of them are disgusting (I'm looking at you, Raspberry Diet Coke) so you're best to stick with the classics.

While waiting about 10 minutes for my food I continued catching up on my Macleans reading with a copy from last summer. I'm trying not to get too political with these blogs, so let's just say if this columnist's hypothesis had held true you would not be reading about me eating chicken today.

Thankfully though, in this timeline I was soon greeted by my lunch and immediately decided the 1/4 chicken would have been just fine. I began with the corn, which came with two balls of butter (the Dairy Farmers will be pleased) and wooden sticks that barely did their corn holding job. The light grilling was a nice touch, but a bit more char would have been nice. The corn was just a hair undercooked, which is better than overcooked, and gave my diet a badly-needed serving of vegetables.

The rice could have been hotter (in fairness, it did sit while I framed the above photo and ate the corn) and could have used more flavour, but I'll take it over fries any day (as I've mentioned, I'm very particular re: fries). The serving could have been more generous too -- the picture is deceptive, as that's actually a very shallow cup.

Really though, this was about the chicken. And based on the half of it I devoured, this chicken was no lightweight. It was grilled perfectly and seasoned deliciously, with the grill taking the edge off the heat nicely. Could have been slightly more moist, but that's nitpicky. It was a lot of chicken, and it was delicious. Much more flavourful than the Chalet, where you need to douse it with chalet sauce.  And the garlic peri sauce (which doesn't even have a heat label, unlike the bottles of medium and hot house sauce) I lightly dipped it in packed a lot of heat.

All in all, $20 is a lot for lunch but I over-ordered in my Portuguese chicken enthusiasm. The 1/4 chicken would bring it down to a more acceptable lunch level. It's a bit more pricey than Swiss Chalet, but the chicken is significantly better. For what they're charging though, they should offer full table service.

I give it 8/10.

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