I ate at Nando’s, the famed South African chain, for the first time and was unimpressed despite its appealing decor and heart-shaped chicken

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Nando’s is a chicken chain serving up South African-style cuisine and is known for its heart-shaped butterfly chicken.
  • Peri-peri chicken is the chain’s flagship dish with a tasty combination of spices.
  • Hundreds of locations exist around the world but some are being closed due to a chicken shortage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US has Kentucky Fried Chicken. And South Africa has Nando’s.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The fast-casual chicken chain is known for peri-peri chicken, or chicken seasoned with spices including peri-peri chili.
Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop. Shutterstock.com
Outside of South Africa, Nando’s is widely popular in the UK and Ireland. It’s so popular that it can’t keep up with the demand for chicken, closing the doors of around 50 locations.
Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop. Alexandre Rotenberg / Shutterstock.com
Source: New York Times
Nando’s is also surprisingly popular in the US, with locations in Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. In fact, the first time I heard about Nando’s was from a friend who pointed it out while we were visiting Washington.
Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop. Willy Barton / Shutterstock.com
On a recent trip to England, I set out to finally eat at Nando’s after hearing about it for months. Here’s what dining at the restaurant was like.
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Unsurprisingly, Nando’s isn’t hard to find in the UK with four locations in Central London alone. I found a location just a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus while sightseeing.
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
There was a bit of a wait at this location just off Regent Street but not more than five minutes.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
South African decor fills the restaurant and gives it a rather exciting ambiance.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The dining room was moderately crowded with plexiglass partitions dividing some of the tables.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I was glad to see the restaurant getting creative with the plexiglass, as evidenced by this butterfly chicken/heart-shaped partition at the cashier station.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The restaurant smelled of delicious chicken and I was eager to finally try Nando’s.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Paper menus were left at each table but all the ordering was done on the Nando’s website.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
QR codes encased in little hearts led the way to the ordering website. Luckily, there was WiFi since I had poor cellular service in the UK.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Each table had a number to include in the order so servers knew where to bring the food.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Much to my expectations, chicken was the primary item on the menu with few alternative options. Other items included burgers, salads, and dips but I had my heart set on peri-peri chicken.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I ordered my chicken with mild spice and hoped for the best. It didn’t take too long for the meal to be prepared but the short time waiting was spent further analyzing the South African artwork.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Soon enough, the star of the night appeared. The beautiful golden brown chicken came out in its iconic heart shape, accompanied by two sides.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I was all set to dig in but waited just a bit longer to get some sauce. The server recommended peri-peri garlic sauce so that was what I grabbed.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But there are other options including wild herb and lemon and herb.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy skin on the outside and gorgeous white meat on the inside.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Next up on the taste test was the chips, or French fries for Americans. But these weren’t just any chips, they were “peri-salted chips” and had the distinct peri-peri seasoning on time.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
They were a perfectly cooked golden brown and crispy, but also just as spicy as the chicken. I almost broke out into a sweat just from the two items.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
Lastly, two pieces of garlic bread were served as the final side. It’s hard to mess up garlic bread and Nando’s certainly doesn’t as it was incredibly tasty.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I will say that I didn’t immediately fall in love with the chicken to the degree to which I expected. A part of me felt that I could marinate chicken at home and then throw it on the barbeque to achieve comparable results.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I also didn’t get much more flavor from the sauce, which was surprising.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
But even still, I cleaned my plate and the meal served its purpose of filling me up.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
All in all, it cost £12.25 or $US17.02 ($AU23). For what I got, I found it to be just a bit overpriced.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
A butterfly chicken breast on its own cost $US8.25 ($AU11), which I thought to be incredibly high priced. But this was Central London amid a chicken shortage, after all.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider
I left satisfied with the meal but felt that the beloved Nando’s didn’t live up to the hype. I’d undoubtedly eat at the chain again but will change it up next time to try more of the menu.
Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK. Thomas Pallini/Insider