independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Treading in Beyonce's hot, spicy footsteps

Nando's St Andrew's Street, Dublin 2 TEL: 01 6779166. 2.5 stars

Beyoncé loves Nando's. Or so I read, as I sat at the crummy kitchen table, with the morning paper, while trying to capture a sausage that was about to escape from my folded-over slice of batch loaf. A thick dribble of HP sauce ran down my inner arm and plopped onto the page – an icky dark brown next to the golden caramel of Mrs Carter's skin.

It was the second time that morning I'd been confronted by a nearly nude Beyoncé. She's modelling a negligible bikini on the bus shelter outside my son's school.

As we waited for the lollipop lady to stop the traffic, we looked at the ripe, luscious curves of Beyoncé's hips, her bejeweled belly button . . . the flower in her hair. My son wanted to know if Beyoncé has kids. She has a little girl, I told him.

"What's her name?"

"I dunno. Something crazy."

"Does she drink Pepsi?"

"Don't be silly – she's a baby."

"Can I drink Pepsi?"

"No."

After the school run, I put the Weetabix back in the press and ransacked the fridge for about-to-expire rashers, sausages and pudding.

It's sheer luxury, this half-an-hour alone with the paper and as much processed pig as I can reasonably consume without crossing the line into gluttony and self-loathing. And it was all going fine until up pops Beyoncé, with her Nando's receipt for €800 worth of peri peri chicken.

Disgusted, I turned the page, and I started reading about how "Young with families are hardest hit by downturn" when Ui Rathaile walked into the kitchen and stole a sausage.

"What's happening?" he wanted to know.

"The ESRI says we're screwed," I told him ... "And Beyoncé spent €800 on a takeaway from Nando's on Mary Street."

"Good for her," he said. "Why do we never go to Nando's?"

Apparently he is blind to the injustice of it all.

Why do we never go to Nando's? Now, that's an excellent question. We don't go to Nando's because in this house we wear one-piece swimsuits. In this house, we drink water or milk with our dinner. In this house, we are hardest hit by the downturn. That's the unbootylicious fact of the matter. You want to go to Nando's? Fine, we'll go to Nando's . . .

And so we did.

Nando's helps those who help themselves. Here's how it works: grab a table, read the menu and decide what marinade you want. There's extra-hot: a real throat scorcher, hot: eye-wateringly fiery, medium: tolerable heat, or lemon & herb: full of zesty flavour.

It's all about the chillies in this self-proclaimed home of the legendary Portuguese flame-grilled peri peri chicken. Nando's, by the way, has branches all over the world – but none in Portugal. Funny that.

Once you've decided how you want your bird chopped up and marinated, you take note of your table number, proceed to the counter, place your order, pay and pour your own soft drinks. Only alcohol will be brought to table.

We order a bottle of Sagres and a glass of vinho verde – just for the pleasure of being served. Then it's back to the bussing station to collect cutlery, napkins – and a panoply of peri peri sauce bottles that run the roaring-hot gamut of the Scoville scale.

We don't have to cook our own chicken. Nando's does that – and precious little else – for you, as fast as chickenly possible. Our bird takes just under half an hour.

We wait, and watch the human ebb and flow of youngsters in Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirts, tourists, an odd collection of solo male diners . . . and then OMG! in walks Damien Dempsey and sits opposite us.

I get all giddy and starting poking Ui Rathaile. "Leave him alone," he snaps. "Can't a man eat his chicken in peace?"

Our whole chicken arrives butterflied into four large pieces. They look crisp and sticky with tempting scorch marks and juices blistering through the skin. The waitress slides our sides onto the table, along with some plates, which we probably should have gotten for ourselves. I'd put every conceivable condiment on the table – and a few more besides.

"Do you have everything?" she asks, rather saucily. I smile at her, and loudly declare: "It's All Good."

Ui Rathaile is raging. He curses me sotto voce. "Would you have asked her to put a fuckin' ring on it, if Beyoncé was sitting there? Stop acting the maggot or I'm never eating with you again."

Chastened, I take to eating my chicken in silence. The first few mouthfuls are delicious: the marinade (medium) is subtle and smokey, the meat comes away in thick moist ribbons from the bone, and the skin is slick with warm oily juices. I begin to experiment with the peri peri sauces: the hot one with added garlic is the best.

Ui Rathaile takes the chicken in hand and makes short work of it. I pilfer one of this chips, it's pale and bland. A waste of a side order.

Much better is the bowl of "luso beans" a dark cloudy stew of black beans, tomatoes, red pepper and onions. It has a smokey edge that I guess is cumin, a good jolt of chilli, garlic and coriander. Mixed with a side of Nando's spicy rice it's the closest thing I've had to gallo pinto outside of Nicaragua. And dios mios, do I love a good gallo pinto.

My second foray into the chicken is considerably less enjoyable than the first. Cooled down, the breast, in particular, has lost much of its moisture and flavour, the marinade clings heavily to meat. The chicken thighs are tastier, albeit greasier.

Perhaps a whole chicken is too much in a single sitting, especially at lunch time. It leaves us plodding and lethargic – a feeling our 40-minute walk home fails to shift.

Neither of us ate again that day.

Nando's can say what they like about the health benefits of flame-grilling over frying – and I'm sure calorie counters would prove them right. Twenty-four hours on and I'm still waiting for my appetite to return. If this goes on much longer, I might end up bikini shopping in H&M after all.

TYPICAL DISH: Peri peri chicken

RECOMMENDED: Luso beans

THE DAMAGE: €45.95 for one full chicken, three sides, one Coke, two beers, one glass of wine.

ON THE STEREO: Latin soul

AT THE TABLE: Celebrity diners

Irish Independent

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