Nando's Peri-Peri sauce takes chicken to another level

Nando’s, the global grilled chicken emporium hailing from South Africa, opened its new North Shore location this fall in the sprawling CentreView mixed-use building at 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue. The restaurant is nestled next to Liberty Wine Merchants and Whole Foods.

I mentioned in passing a few columns back that I usually steer clear of chain restaurants, save for when there is a community relevance to them, or some other reason to review them that may be of interest to readers. In the case of Nando’s the significance, if I’m being totally honest, is simply that I have always liked their chicken and continue to admire their grilled-to-order philosophy. Additionally, because I consider their menu to be considerably more thoughtful and engaging than that of the average multi-outlet international franchise operation, I place them in a different category of relevance, ergo this week’s column.

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The persistent, if somewhat opaque, Nando’s brand story revolves around the rooster portrayed in the company’s logo. Legend has it that a traveller passing through Barcelos, Portugal was wrongfully accused of theft and sentenced to death. Before his execution he was brought before the town judge to offer a final plea. The judge was allegedly sitting down to a feast featuring grilled rooster at the time (as one does when deciding a man’s fate) and just as he was about to tuck in to his meal, the rooster sprang to life, crowed loudly, and ran off. So astonished was the judge that he interpreted the occurrence as some sort of omen and released the wrongfully convicted man. The rooster came to symbolize justice and good fortune, values that Nando’s ostensibly embraces, as reported by their website copy.

Given that the first Nando’s opened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1987, one has to question the relevance of the Portuguese folk tale that informs the restaurant chain’s brand platform. The answer, I believe, lies in the Peri-Peri, the much-touted African Bird’s Eye Chilli that is used in every Nando’s restaurant’s signature sauces and with which chicken and other items are grilled. The Peri-Peri is grown in Mozambique, you see, which sits in Southern Africa where Portuguese colonialism was once rampant. As the Portuguese fused local African ingredients with their own native cuisine they developed, among other things, the famed Peri-Peri sauce that is now inseparable from the Nando’s menu. Peri-Peri sauce, offered in degrees of spice intensity at Nando’s, is comprised of African Bird’s Eye Chilies, garlic, vinegar, salt, lemon and oil. The vitamin-rich chilies in the sauce apparently have natural preservative qualities, allowing Nando’s to keep their meals largely free of artificial ingredients. The business reportedly grows its own chilies on 500 acres of farmland employing more than 1,400 workers in Mozambique.

Whatever the backstory, the fact remains that Nando’s chicken, liberally basted in tangy Peri-Peri and grilled over coals until pleasingly singed on the exterior, is tasty stuff. I dropped in recently with frequent dining buddy Gil and we feasted away happily, without the burden of lofty decisions on corporal punishment and, thankfully, free from suddenly resuscitated fowl.

As great as their chicken is (do be cautious in selecting from the upper levels of the available heat scale, as your food will get fiery fast when you order anything past medium), it was Nando’s ancillary menu items that gave me greatest satisfaction on my visit. Specifically, the Grilled Chicken Livers were exceptional, the meaty morsels slathered in sauce (we went for hot, correctly surmising that the rich, subtly gamey flavour of the offal would stand up to such intensity) and accompanied by a soft, chewy Portuguese bun with which to mop up the post-grill juices or make an impromptu sandwich.

Grilled Wings were similarly delicious, bearing blackened grill marks and representing a nice alternative to the ubiquitous deep-fried, breaded wing phenomenon that seems to dominate casual dining menus. Garlic bread made with the aforementioned buns, spiced rice, and crispy fries accompanied our meal, the core of which was a whole chicken cooked in medium sauce, priced well at $18.75.

We brought back a modified, remarkably tasty Halloumi sandwich for my wife DJ back at home. The sandwich typically includes Portobello mushroom, but we requested it without, opting instead for just the grilled wedge of springy halloumi cheese with tomato and lettuce in cilantro dressing, served on a garlic bun.

Olives, nuts, hummus and pita, and other small bites also feature on the menu and pair well with local beers on tap. Most entrée menu items include at least one side in their price, making it a good value meal relative to the quantity of food.

The North Vancouver Nando’s features bright, vibrant artwork from Capetown, South Africa-based artist Liza Grobler. The artist has 85 pieces of her original work displayed in Nando’s restaurants and administrative offices around the world.

Our meal of a whole chicken, livers, wings, the halloumi sandwich, and sides, was $66 before gratuity.

Nando’s, 148 13th Street East, North Vancouver. 604-988-4915.

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