Prince William Made Me Royally Fall in Love With Nando’s
Prince William has publicly proclaimed his love for Nando’s, the South Africa-based chicken restaurant chain. For a born-and-bred American, I’m a pretty devoted royal-watcher. (I’ve also tried Princess Diana’s favorite foot lotion — Body Shop peppermint — and use her hairbrush brand — Mason Pearson.) So I knew that eventually, I had to check the chain out. After all, how many times can you say you dined like a member of the royal family?
But here’s the problem: While Nando’s has locations in 35 countries, here in the U.S., it’s only in three states (Maryland, Illinois and Virginia) and D.C. I don’t live near any of those places. But then this summer, while visiting cozy downtown Cardiff, Wales’ capital city, I found my way to Nando’s. (Fitting, since Prince William’s dad Charles is of course the Prince of Wales.)
Here’s what Nando’s is not. It’s not an American-style fast-food chicken place, like KFC. And It’s also not a full-service bar and grill – you order at the counter, are given a table number, and a staff member brings you your food. Our server got confused and tried to bring us someone else’s meal but whatever.
Here’s what Nando’s is. It’s a darn fine chicken restaurant, with much better food than most order-at-the-counter places and a spacious, comfortable dining room (two levels, at our location).
Nando’s specialty is Portuguese peri-peri chicken, which is chicken sauced with the spicy African bird’s eye chili pepper. The menu says the chicken is marinated in the sauce for 24 hours, then flame-grilled in your choice of heat. The levels start low, with one dubbed “plain…ish,” where the meat is marinated in the sauce, but has no spice added. There are four more levels, all the way up to extra-hot, which is described as, “like tackling a ferociously fiery dragon.”
We’d never had peri-peri chicken before and didn’t know how hot it might get. I played it somewhat safe, ordering my chicken pita sandwich spiced medium (described as “hits the spot without scalding your tonsils”). It was seriously one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever had. Juicy and tender, flavorful without being overly spiced, I was ready to come back the next night and order it again. (I didn’t. But I did think about it for the rest of the trip.)
My daring husband wanted to taste all of Nando’s heat levels, so he ordered “wing roulette,” a plate of 10 chicken wings randomly spiced. “Live dangerously,” the menu taunts. Dangerously delicious, we decided – the wings were marinated and juicy, with a good mix of the different spice levels. The extra-hot lived up to its name, but wasn’t “quick, I need to bathe my tongue in a gallon of yogurt” hot.
I also loved my side dish – enormous, moist sweet-potato wedges, served with a refreshing yogurt-mayo dip. They were practically a meal in themselves. The restaurant also boasted a sauce bar, featuring bottle after bottle of Nando’s different sauces, from garlic to wild herb to three levels of hot, all the way up to the extra-hot. (Yes, I tried them all. Prince William and his mates probably have.)
I was once a restaurant critic and editor, so I know that restaurant hype doesn’t always pan out. I also know to be wary of famous people’s endorsements: Considering all the special interests they may be trying to please, their reviews have to be taken with a whole shaker of peri-peri salt. But in this case, Prince William didn’t let me down. If you, too, want to dine like a royal, check out this list of 10 things you didn't know about Nando's.