★★★☆☆ / Steak/chophouse

Nando’s vs Roosters Piri Piri review – cheap and cheeky chicken comparison

Southeast London takeaway chicken and chips

Nando’s is a national institution and unsurprisingly so. This popularity isn’t due solely to their ubiquity – its staple chicken dishes can be consumed by almost anyone no matter what their religiously mandated dietary requirements are – ideal for the group outings we still can’t really have. Nando’s is inexpensive, but their restaurants certainly don’t feel cheap with their individually styled interiors.

Nando’s broad appeal infamously became the subject of an ironically self-knowing, almost self-perpetuating meme (you know the one I mean). It was steeped in the language of laddish redtop culture that was so tiresome it became dated and dank while still new and viral.

I last ate at Nando’s around a decade ago, before I started this site. That long interregnum wasn’t because I have anything against the inescapable chicken chain, but due to the simple fact that I always had other, more interesting restaurants to go to – until now.

With lockdown, I have fewer respites from the amateurish tedium of my own cooking. It was this, combined with the need to run errands for an ill dining companion, that led me to pucker up for a cheeky Nando’s for the first time in years. At the same time, the existence of a notable competitor in the form of Roosters Piri Piri, a franchised chain with branches in London as well as farther afield, piqued my curiosity.

There’s only one thing for it – a takeaway piri piri chicken-and-chips comparison.

Extra hot piri piri chicken from Nando’s and Roosters Piri Piri

Given that most chicken in the UK tends to be a timidly tasteless meat, one way to make it enjoyable is to baste and slather it in hot sauce. Not for sadomasochistic Scoville-swilling purposes, but for the comely combination of ticklish or perhaps even bracing heat twinned with citrus- and pepper-derived flavour.

The bulk of my Nando’s 700g chook was breast that skirted dangerously close to being bone dry. There wasn’t enough thigh meat, the best part of the chicken, while the ‘Extra Hot’ sauce/marinade had a passing citrusy brightness and about as much spicy heat as a bottle of ketchup.

illustrative photo of the extra hot whole chicken from Nando's
Drawn and quartered.

Roosters’ 795g bird was only somewhat less dry than Nando’s, with a wee bit more thigh meat and skin to its name. There was also a touch more citrusy brightness in its sauce, but the real attraction was a higher level of spicy heat. Although hardly deserving of Roosters’ ‘Extra Hot’ billing, it packed roughly Tabasco-like levels of heat. Although that’s still only mildly-to-moderately spicy in my books – and even then mostly concentrated in a puddle of extant sauce pooled at the bottom of the takeaway container – it was nonetheless the prime attraction here.

illustrative photo of the extra hot whole chicken from Roosters Piri Piri
In hindsight, I regret having Roosters’ hyperbolic health messaging in the background of this shot.

Curiously, a separate helping of wings proved to eminently superior. Puffy skin glazed with a tingly warmth tore away to reveal succulent meat.

Matters didn’t exactly divebomb back down to Earth, but while the breast stripes were just on the right side of moist, the heat and flavour levels barely nudged above the level of stale tomato paste.

illustrative photo of the chicken breast pieces and wings from Roosters Piri Piri
Chicken pick and mix.

Nando’s wings, while succulent in their own right, didn’t have the same toothsome mouthfeel as Roosters’ wings. What they did have was a bristling heat, which was as surprising as it was lip puckering.

illustrative photo of the extra hot chicken wings from Nando's Woolwich
Winging it.

Nando’s ‘butterflied’ chicken breast is just a cunning weasel word for a bit of meat sliced almost (but not totally) down the middle. The shrunken, wrinkled skin, moderately moist meat and almost lack of spicy heat would make this bit of flap a good prop for an actor playing a cannibal sampling an elderly victim.

illustrative photo of the butterflied chicken breast from Nando's Woolwich
Flappy bird.

Much like the corresponding segments from both whole chickens, Nando’s thighs were so shrunken – especially compared to the voluminous breasts – that I’m starting to suspect that chickens from food service companies are so sedentary that it leads to stunted, underdeveloped lower limbs. From a purely consumerist perspective, that’s a shame as thighs are usually one of the best tasting parts of a chicken. These thighs were unsatisfyingly spindly matchsticks with barely any skin coverage.

illustrative photo of the extra hot chicken thighs from Nando's Woolwich
I’m not exactly rubbing my thighs with glee, here.

For a real and consistent sense of heat on any of Nando’s chicken dishes, you need to upgrade to one of the sauces available only by the bottle. The Vusa doesn’t have a spot on Nando’s so-called Peri-ometer, but definitely packs more heat than the so-called Extra Hot – although the ‘Intense Heat’ appellation on the label is just hyperbole. Just as importantly, the Vusa also had a garlicky edge and a sizeable splash of acidity so it was more than just a generically spicy hot sauce.

illustrative photo of the bottled Vusa sauce from Nando's Woolwich
One of the rare occasions where it pays to bottle it.

Sides and extras from Nando’s

Nando’s chunky chips were cut from whole slices of potato, as is right and proper – no reconstituted mash here. Although floppy rather than crisp, the real crime was the spiced salt which was hardly any different from standard table salt.

illustrative photo of the chips from Nando's
The chips are down.
illustrative photo of the chips from Nando's Woolwich
Chips ahoy.

Large, separated grains of rice were advertised as spiced. Oddly though, the mild transient heat was only really noticeable in leftovers reheated the day after.

illustrative photo of the rice from Nando's
Rice…

Peas were green, minty and didn’t kill me.

illustrative photo of the peas from Nando's Woolwich
…and peas, but not rice ‘n’ peas.

I wasn’t expecting much from Nando’s Nata tarts. While far from the finest version of Belem’s egg custard treats with their paper bag-like pastry, the filling was at least creamy. While not nearly eggy or custardy enough, its creaminess was still a step-up for the pitifully pale fillings in both frozen and supermarket bakery Nata tarts.

illustrative photo of the Nata tart from Nando's
Slouching towards Belem.

Sides and extras from Roosters Piri Piri

In a pleasant surprise, Roosters’ chips were also cut from whole potato into chunky soldiers. Also like Nando’s chips, they were floppy and dusted with a spiced salt that had transient spicing at best.

illustrative photo of the chips from Roosters Piri Piri
Chips off the old block.

The coleslaw was, as expected, nothing to write home about but at least it wasn’t cloying and sickly. Its creaminess would’ve been a welcome counterpoint to the chicken dishes if all of them had been as lip-tingling as the wings. As it was, the coleslaw was little more than a paltry excuse of a vegetable dish for salad dodgers.

illustrative photo of the coleslaw from Roosters Piri Piri
Potted salad.

The Verdict

While Nando’s chicken isn’t without its charms, it was only really at its best when taken with a glug of one of the more fiery, optional and bottle-only hot sauces. That doesn’t mean Roosters romps home with all the gongs though – its chicken was similarly mediocre in many ways and ultimately just as middlingly satisfactory given how little you’re paying for it.

Of course, nothing I write will ever dampen the cultish devotion surrounding Nando’s or the attractiveness of its erstwhile imitators and competitors. Nor is it meant to. After all, the reasons behind their popularity go even deeper than the issues of price and accessibility mentioned in the introduction.

There’s the issue of spicy heat, or rather its general absence. Far from a flaw for many people, it’s actually a benefit. The UK is, after all, the originator of countless Mumsnet posts proclaiming a preference for ‘bland food’. This preference for comparatively dull food ties into the surprisingly prevalent fear of eating something new. If trying something other than your familiar favourites and potentially coming away disappointed is forever a worry, then you’d naturally turn to Nando’s and its ilk. Their inoffensive mediocrity is nothing if not assuredly consistent.

Perhaps even more importantly, chicken travels well unlike countless other dishes. This is more important than ever as many restaurants – including all Nando’s and Roosters branches at the time of writing – remain closed for dine-in and many households rely on takeaway more than ever. Both Roosters and Nando’s deliver through Deliveroo, while the former also works with Uber Eats.

My longtime Twitter followers will probably be well aware of my disdain for those ‘gig economy’ delivery services. Their delivery drivers – who in London are often people of colour – work under precarious conditions for vanishingly small amounts of money under the legal fiction that they are independent contractors.

These delivery services can be just as detrimental for the restaurants they purport to support. While many restaurants are desperate for any income they can get, the fees these services charge cut into their already meagre takings. Adding to this cutting irony, these services also condition the public to expect delivery for as little money as possible while severing the direct relationship between them and the people that cook and deliver their food.

I detest these delivery services and despair at those who love them unconditionally and uncritically. Even so, I’m not going to rail against those who need to use them whether they’re disabled, temporarily or chronically ill, permanently sleep-deprived parents or whoever else.

All I ask is that, if you must use these services rather than collecting yourself or ordering from the eatery directly, then tip your delivery driver as much as you can. A few quid can help make a real difference to someone’s life, which is a small price to pay for hot sauce chicken and chips delivered to your doorstep.

Name: Nando’s

Branch tried: 50 Powis Street, Woolwich, London SE18 6LQ

Phone: 020 8854 7506

Webhttps://www.nandos.co.uk/restaurants/woolwich

Opening Hours: seven days a week noon – 21.00 (allegedly). 

Reservations: not taken

Average cost for one person excluding delivery fees: £20-25 approx. 

Rating★★★☆☆

Name: Roosters Piri Piri

Branch tried: 5 Old Stable Row, Love Lane, London SE18 6JR

Phone: 020 3620 7534

Webhttps://www.roosterspiripiri.com/copy-of-wood-green (this is the actual link, I kid you not)

Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.00 – 23.00 (allegedly). 

Reservations: not taken

Average cost for one person excluding delivery fees: £25 approx.

Rating★★★☆☆

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