There’s a time and a place for Nando’s; usually the day after the night before, a team lunch or a 15-year-old’s birthday. It’s cheap, more nutritious than Maccy’s and it’s consistent. I have no shame in admitting I have a lot of time for a cheeky Nando’s.
I’m in good company too – Jay Z, Drake, Ed Sheeran and Adele are big fans of the spicy flame-grilled chicken – even formidable food critic Jay Rayner has admitted to liking the chain, so anyone who says they don’t is probably just a bit of a snob (or lying).
For the unschooled in macho peas and bottomless Coke’s, Nando’s is basically just Portuguese piri-piri chicken – tasty, tender, flame-grilled chicken smothered in an African bird’s eye chilli-based marinade. It’s delicious and in my mind, there’s plenty room for more of this in London.
Enter Casa do Frango, who’s original sits in London Bridge and new outpost has just opened in Shoreditch. It’s essentially posh Nando’s with better service, actual table service and nice wine. No, in all honesty, the food is far superior to that of Nando’s, but it’s definitely the vibe.
The menu is made up sharing small plates and classic piri-piri chicken, meticulously brushed three times with the restaurant’s secret, signature blend. The chefs pick smaller birds, roughly 900g, to ensure that the chicken is evenly cooked and perfectly chargrilled in all the right places. They then grill it over an open wood charcoal, giving the chicken an outdoorsy, rich flavour with deliciously crispy skin and succulent meat.
But it’s the sides on the menu that really come into their own. The grilled chorizo is some of the best Spanish sausage you’ll find in the capital. Packed full of flavour, the paprika-y oiliness is cut through with a salty black olive mayo which looks kind of horrible but is utterly delicious.
The piri-piri prawns are another must-try. These guys have been properly marinated and pumped full of chilli and pepper – not like they’ve just been licked with a chilli flake and clove of garlic. While the Almôndegas meatballs add a homely, family cooking vibe to the menu.
Drinks-wise, the vinho verde (green wine) is delicious. The crisp, fruity and a little bit floral Portuguese wine has a natural spritz and matches the charred, spicy flavour of the chicken perfectly. Unlike Nando’s, whose ‘sangria’ is something to be overlooked, Casa do Frango have a decent wine menu, affordably priced and staff who can guide you through what to choose. And while there’s no free refills on soft drinks, the refreshing pineapple Sumol drink will make you feel like you’re holidaying in the Algarve.
I finished off the meal with an authentic pastel de nata – Portugal’s signature custard tart. I like to think I’m pretty well versed in these little custardy, flakey delights and this was by far the best I’ve had in London. Served hot with a generous dollop of homemade ice cream, I’d go back just to pick up one of those.
Like the menu, the interiors nod to Lisbon’s rustic design too. Think terracotta washed walls, botanicals everywhere and zesty orange seating – there’s definitely a nod to the laid back cool, rustic, tile-covered streets of Portugal’s capital.
Casa do Franco Founders Marco and Jake have really nailed it when it comes to good, authentic Algarvian fare and if I’m honest, there’s always room for another Piri-Piri joint in London. Nando’s may serve a purpose but this place serves up excellent food.
Casa do Frango, 2 King John Court, London EC2A 3EZ
Tel. 020 7654 3020