So we set out one evening and eagerly visited the refurbished Nando’s along Speke Avenue behind Joina City. The level of patronage for this very tastefully re-done Innscor complex, comprising Chicken Inn, Creamy Inn, Bakers Inn and Nando’s, was very refreshing — and the buzz which was there on a Tuesday night, gave one the impression that the giant was awakening and something very positive was happening to the Zimbabwean night life and eating out culture!
Due to the high patronage which appears to have overtaken the traditional crowd pullers in the Innscor stable like the Fantasy Land along Robert Mugabe Way, near Eastgate shopping mall, the Speke Avenue complex has become quite crowded and taxis have taken over all the parking space, which makes it difficult for any genuine diners to find parking, thus making the Nando’s case weaker as a good restaurant. How then would it compete with the Coimbras and the Cascais (now closed!) of this world who while they also specialise in Portuguese Peri-Peri chicken, take time to welcome their guests and personalise the experience — as well as providing vehicle security.
After finally finding some parking, we settled to our task, and for starters I ordered three full wings while my companion ordered chicken livers. We both ordered the lemon and herb option. When the waiter came after what felt like ages, I immediately saw two blue flags — depicting he had brought a Peri-Peri-mild.
He humbly apologised and came back with the order after a couple of minutes, and indeed there were visible traces of the lemon and herb sauce on the wings. The sauce was convincing as the ingredients had evidently bonded to produce an intense taste with a flavoursome tinge of basil and thyme and of course the lemon! As for the livers, he argued that it was only the flag that had been misplaced but the flavour was indeed lemon and herb. My companion was doubtful.
After the starters we decided to go for a whole chicken, again in the lemon and herb flavour as my companion does not have a hot palate and would have shuddered at either a mild (which is my usual favourite) or a hot. Although the chicken was well-grilled and the heat had obviously penetrated it well right into the bone, the sauce flavour was distant and even the lemon could be hardly discerned. Though enjoying our main course, we experienced the atmosphere as rather too busy, hectic and noisy for a heart to heart dinner.
The service personnel were polite and helpful, but the location of the Nando’s restaurant adjacent to the Chicken Inn, was not conducive to a relaxed, peaceful dining out experience.
On this particular night Chicken Inn was playing Oliver Mtukudzi’s music full blast, to the extent that some of the Nando’s waiters and kitchen staff could not help but gyrate to the music and sing along!
Be that as it may, it would be a serious sin of omission not to acknowledge the good work that has been done by Innscor in re-designing the whole Nando’s restaurant. It now has modernly designed tables and chairs which are set to take advantage of the lime and green striped couches which run along all the restaurant’s walls in turns and groves that create little romantic zones of privacy and very cosy seating. One of the couches has neatly ridged and fitted cushions that are chilli red, whilst the rest of the walls have a dark green wall paper which when beamed upon by the dimly lit bulbs (which are covered in red and green lamp shades), creates a very warm feel. The table markers have a very interesting African Bird’s eye chilli, or Peri-Peri in Swahili, design, which is quite in keeping with restaurant’s Peri-Peri Chicken theme.
My suggestion to Nando’s management is that the Nando’s restaurants must be positioned away from the Chicken Inns which are largely take away and never really try to create a conducive sit-down environment. Whilst the fittings and food could easily create a great chicken specialty restaurant, the parking and surrounding environment militate against this desire. Even the demeanor of the waiters is still very much geared towards a casual or take-out dining service and not a formal restaurant, so Nando’s has more work ahead to attain the sit down Speciality Dining experience on which it has set its sights, bringing it in line with its sister outlets in its country of origin, South Africa, and now, all over the globe too.
Expect to spend between $USD 15-25 per head
Speke Avenue behind Joina City