Those who have been reading my blog over the past 3 years know that it’s all about sharing my food experiences. I’m not a food critic or even a reviewer. I simply enjoy eating and writing about it! I don’t consider any place beneath me or not good enough for me to set foot in (that would make me a terrible food snob). Besides, I think it’s good to try a variety of places. Chains, independents, cheap eats, posh nosh… I think all of us have a balance, based on needs, budget and preferences. Whilst it’s obvious I definitely have a preference for independents (my father was a restaurateur), I’m not averse to popping into a chain once in a while. Paulo and I travel extensively for our work and sometimes we end up in towns with just chains as options, so I think it’s good for this blog to offer some alternatives, based on my own personal opinion of course.
When I received an email announcing that Nando’s opened its most sustainable restaurant right here in Cambridge, I was curious to see the building. Sustainable construction is of personal and professional interest to us. Appointed as a “Next Generation Nando’s”, the location at Cambridge Retail Park is the first in the world to be powered by 100% renewable electricity and gas. It has 97 solar panels that generate 10% of its overall activity.
The restaurant is complimented with eco-friendly additions such as natural insulation made of Cumbrian sheep’s wool, a living wall of plants and intricate lampshades made from mushrooms.
The timber frame building boasts a green insulated roof which keeps the restaurant warm on the inside. It’s also been cleverly designed to harvest rainwater to keep the plants hydrated. The location is a good one too, with plenty of free parking (making it easier for families to get there) and great chilli pepper-shaped bike racks for the cyclists.
The chilli pepper theme continues upon entering the restaurant, with fresh chilli peppers growing in abundance in the lobby (I was tempted to pick some).
I have to admit that I haven’t set foot in a Nando’s since 2004. When I lived in Chiswick, my tiny overheated kitchen located above a dry cleaner didn’t inspire me to cook much so I regularly succumbed to a cheeky Nando’s. I was also on a very tight budget then so this place was the ideal balance between a fast food joint and a restaurant. It still is. An overload of Nando’s and the increased ability to try new places put Nando’s to the wayside.
There’s also the fact that Paulo is of Portuguese ancestry so going out for chicken is not really something we do, as we prefer to roast or barbecue it ourselves. This also allows us to source excellent free range chicken such as this or this. It’s not cost effective for chain restaurants to provide free range chicken so I didn’t expect this from Nando’s (read up on Nando’s chicken here).
As it had been so long since we had been to Nando’s, our hostess was a little taken aback when we said it was our first time. We thought it prudent to say this as we really didn’t remember how to order! We were given the menus then went to place and pay for our order at the counter. I found that process disorganised and noticed as the queues formed there was really no clear way of instructing customers where to stand. So I definitely think there is room for improvement in that respect. However, once we ordered and paid, service was fairly quick and we didn’t wait long for our food.
We ordered a couple of dips from the Fire-Starters menu (anyone else humming some drum and bass?). We both really liked the houmous and it came with a small bottle of PERi-PERi drizzle so we could control how much we wanted. There was also a generous amount of warm pitta bread strips.
The red pepper dip, on the other hand, was watery and bland. Whilst it did have the fresh taste of roasted red peppers, it had no real “chilli spice” as indicated on the menu.
We both ordered the ¼ chicken breast with 2 regular sides (corn on the cob and chips for me, PERi-salted chips and garlic bread for Paulo). We were both pleasantly surprised by the quality of the chicken, which was meaty, dense and flavourful. Nando’s chickens are marinated for at least 24 hours before being cooked and each chicken is then flame-grilled to order.
The “How Spicy?” PERi-ometer was useful in choosing a baste. I went for mild (lemon & herb). Paulo ordered the hot, which is one step below extra hot and it was spicy indeed, just the way he likes it.
The corn on the cob’s kernels weren’t plump and well-developed. The corn had a nice flavour from the charring but it was a bit dry. The butter on the side helped though. The chips were just OK. Paulo thought the PERi-salted chips were too salty and a little disappointing. He enjoyed the garlic bread. We stuck to soft drinks (refillable glasses) but there is a drinks menu featuring wine, spritzers, beer and cider.
The food was good overall, better than I remembered. Service was helpful and attentive. This restaurant at the Cambridge Retail Park is definitely a nice place to visit. The ambience and South African décor are lovely too, including the outside seating area. Nando’s green credentials at this location and its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint are a good match for their reasonably priced meals.
I was given a Nando’s Chicken Cheque to visit their new location at Cambridge Retail Park and try their menu. Although the food and drink were complimentary, all views are my own. I did not receive compensation for my review.
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