Nando’s, c. 1987, is a restaurant in the Great North Leisure Park, Finchley, N12, off the North Circular, which is my favourite orbital, solely from familiarity. The Great North Leisure Park includes a cinema, a bowling alley, a Pizza Hut, something called Chimichanga, and Nando’s. But the real draw of the Great North Leisure Park is the car park. If you live in north London, free parking is a destination in itself. Put it next to a nuclear reactor, and they’d come bearing toddlers.
I fell into Nando’s due to sloth. I was with children, and people who can’t vote shouldn’t have destination restaurants, but they do, based on their firmly held conviction that Blu Tack coated in sugar is an ideal food, plus speed of delivery. I have been to Nando’s before, perhaps ten years ago, on the recommendation of my shaman, and I ate an adequate meal in the O2 Centre on the Finchley Road, which is like the Great North Leisure Park, Finchley, except it has a branch of Habitat instead of a bowling alley. It is as if Nando’s cannot exist without the life support of an enormous car park. So I gave in: sure, tiny people who can’t vote, let’s go to Nando’s. How bad can it be?
Nando’s is called a phenomenon because it brought African-style food to the masses, as if being ripped off by a chicken shack is an authentic act of anti-racism. Perhaps in these wild days it is, and a bad restaurant can be confused with a polling booth. But I have been eating for a better world for 30 years, and nothing has happened, except I have got fat. Even so, left-wing newspapers have published homages to Nando’s semi-politicised chicken, which is cooked in Peri Peri sauce, which was -invented by Portuguese immigrants living in Mozambique and is now sold in, among other places, Morrisons.
Why can’t we just not illegally deport members of the Windrush generation? Surely that would be more meaningful?
Nando’s, I learnt from this hagio-graphy, is where the cool kids go. The very coolest of these cool kids get a card which entitles them to free -Nando’s, which makes me feel ill, but they love it. This card is so secret that the Nando’s PR department will not admit to its existence, but at least one celebrity told a newspaper that it is real, like a chicken unicorn. I do not know if the Unlimited Nando’s in Space card does exist, but I can say, based on my experience in the Great North Leisure Park, Finchley: the cool kids are being robbed by -chicken salesmen posing as Corbyinstas.
Even so, the PR (and the car park) has worked. It is packed with families. The interior is a combination of American diner and Swedish murder lodge: huge windows, booths, and a serve-your-own-ketchup station, which appeals to children because ketchup is really paint that tastes edible. Plants and love hearts are scrawled upon the walls. The menu has a photograph of athletic women dancing. Spend time in Nando’s, and I think the dancing is unlikely. Like so much of modern discourse, it’s a myth, and a prayer.
Here, we eat a selection of chicken-themed food so repulsive that I can hardly bear to name it, in case my mouth, and then my brain, remember it. But if you are literal, and want the pain in ink, I will tell you that we ate chicken burgers with absolutely nothing to redeem them except that digestion eventually bore them away. I think that Nando’s has been, and is, very good elsewhere, but here in Finchley, in the Great North Leisure Park, any respect for people or chicken has fled.