Set within the cavernous O2 complex, Nandos offers decent enough family food in a polished, authentic and friendly setting.
The impressive looking Nandos housed within the O2 is a stylish affair with solid woods, stone flooring and comfortable leather seating throughout. It has the air of somewhere a little more upmarket than its menu suggests with a suitably authentic Portuguese feel, extending even to etched stone and exposed brickwork. Darkened mirrors soften the lighting and create a nicely relaxed ambience that’s accompanied well by funky yet toned down Latin music.
As you might expect from somewhere within the bowels of the O2, the restaurant can go from being extremely busy on event days to pretty quiet when there’s nothing on. There are enough local attractions and businesses to ensure it’s never completely dead but you get the impression it flitters between being almost lifeless when the arena’s not busy to being frighteningly manic when it is. However, the resulting schizophrenia isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Event days see a vibrant atmosphere that suits the animated staff, spacious setting and friendly ethos whilst the secluded booths and pleasant lighting make it a nice place to dine in comfort when it’s quiet.
Nandos’ considerable popularity is born from what is essentially a simple menu - the staple for most diners here is chicken and chips, dusted and cooked in the special Nandos Peri–Peri flavouring, ordered according to taste and heat preference. There are other dishes on offer however and those who are prepared to go against the grain will be better rewarded. The Peri-Peri nuts for starters are tasty and boast a crunchy selection of cashews, peanuts and almonds that are liberally coated in the spicy dusting that the restaurant is known for. They are, however, mountainous and if you attempt to tackle the lot the flavouring becomes almost redundant, familiarity nearly breeding contempt. The Nandos salad is a simple affair but there’s quality in the ingredients. Crunchy and luminous lettuce, plump cherry tomatoes, crisp peppers with a surprising amount of taste, and decent enough radishes are well suited to the piquancy of a tangy and refreshing mint and herb vinegar dressing.
The chicken that has attracted a legion of Nando fans is something of a disappointment though. Not because there’s anything particularly bad with it but more because the initial impression of such a splendid setting and fine service means that sitting down and tucking into chicken and chips is a little anticlimactic and uninspiring. Despite the chicken being cooked perfectly with char grilled skin and moist, succulent meat, the Peri-Peri flavouring again, never rises above the bland. Most diners seem to cover the whole thing in ketchup anyway, and whilst this is hardly sophisticated, it really is the best way to enjoy it.
There’s the usual selection of offer, including free refills of all soft drinks which is admirably generous. The fruit juices are freshly squeezed and lively, particularly the zesty and refreshing mango. There are a good range of authentic beers with Sagres and Superbock from Portugal as well as the popular Brahma from Brazil. The wine selection isn’t sophisticated but is certainly ample, and offers some really good examples at excellent prices, most notably the Spier Chenin, a South African Sauvignon Blanc that’s a crisp and well suited accompaniment to the chicken. This particular branch is the first to have a cocktail bar and its location certainly suits it. They’ve got some genuinely enthusiastic and informed staff who can knock up some delicious concoctions. Of particular note is their Caipirinha, a smooth, almost quaffable example with superb fruity tones and a pleasant kick that really benefits from using authentic cachaca instead of vodka.
The Last Word
A pleasant enough experience that’s perfect for grabbing a bite when at the O2.