As someone who has not eaten meat since 2014, I like Nando’s – a restaurant famed for its mastery of “the chicken” – a surprising amount. This is largely to do with its unintentional vegan offering: the crust on the garlic bread like gold leaf, the corn on the cob basted and grilled in Mango and Lime sauce, and, of course, the king of side dishes, Peri Peri chips.
Despite my enjoyment of these vegan options, I’d be lying if I told you I’d never dared to dream about a world in which Nando’s served a plant-based chicken alternative. But last week, finally, the chain announced that this future was about to come to fruition.
In the footsteps of other big fast food brands, like Greggs, KFC and Subway, Nando’s has rolled out a meat alternative called The Great Imitator, which is made from pea protein and available in a burger, a pitta or a wrap, accompanied by various salad items and dressings, depending on which one you get (though vegan Perinaise features in all of them). As trusted reviewers of the food genre known best as Fake Meat Nonsense, we gave them all a try. For science.
THE LOOK: 4/5
Lauren: So the first thing to say is that the chicken is served in strips, and not as the type of flat patty you might be expecting. Here, look:
The burger and the pitta look best, as they bloom forth with tasty looking veg (lettuce and tomato in the burg; lettuce, cucumber and semi-dried tomatoes in the pit), while the wrap is a little bit austere.
When you cut the fake chicken down the middle, it has a bit of a grey, space-food type look (this is most evident in the wrap, because it doesn’t have much veg going on), which isn’t an amazing vibe. That said, I do have many years in the vegan game and remember what fake cheese used to be like when you could only buy it in Holland and Barrett and it smelled like feet, so I’m not easily put off.
Daisy: I’m of the opinion that fast food doesn’t need to look good, it just needs to look edible, and even that is up for debate (have you seen the filet-o-fish IRL?). The Great Imitator definitely looks like food, which you can eat. My only qualm is that the “chicken” is aesthetically very beige, arguably lacking the reflective orange outside sheen that the original Nando’s possesses.
CONSISTENCY AND TEXTURE: 3/5
Daisy: I ate mine in my garden, which is just as well because bits of soft pea protein and Perinaise kept flopping out and plopping all over my hands, much to the genuine disgust of my flatmate, who was watching from her window. Luckily the crunch of the cucumber evened things out, texturally. But yeah, very soft.
THE TASTE: 5/5
Lauren: You could honestly cover a bit of polystyrene in Nando’s Medium or Hot baste and I’d happily eat it, so intoxicating do I find that particular sweet nectar. This, thankfully, is much tastier than that: there’s a mild chicken-adjacent taste, which is pretty enjoyable, and it goes with all of the accompaniments in each sandwich really well.
Daisy: Excellent ratios going on here, flavour-wise. The tangy sweetness of the tomato perfectly offsets the meatiness of the pea protein and creaminess of the Perinaise. I would say that the “chicken” itself lacks the chargrilled saltiness of the OG Nando's product, but if you’ve been vegan for a while you probably won’t be able to tell.
HOW CONVINCING IS IT?: 2/5
Lauren: I’m not going to sit here and say that this vegan option tastes exactly the same as chicken, because it obviously does not – but equally, I haven’t eaten chicken in so long that I’d probably hate it if it did. The real comparison is in the fact that this feels like a pretty satisfying, filling and ultimately like-for-like replacement, when previous Nando’s veggie options haven’t so much.
Daisy: Half the joy of the OG Nando’s comes from the chicken skin, imo, which tastes like fire, salt and flames. The Great Imitator doesn’t exactly emulate that, but Nando’s aren’t wizards and this is close enough in terms of texture and the fact it is also a successful vessel for sauce.
CHEEKY NANDOS-NESS: 5/5
Lauren: In other words: is The Great Imitator something I could eat while bantering with the lads after leg day? Honestly, I think it is.
WOULD YOU ORDER AGAIN?: 5/5
Daisy: If I was hungover and had someone to split the UberEats delivery charge with, then yeah, absolutely, probably this month.