Most Lahorites are familiar with Nando’s rooster. It can be seen on billboards all over town, plumes proudly spread, promising to add ‘new flame’ to our culinary experience. Since its arrival in Pakistan in 2001, Nando’s has been serving spicy, or Peri-Peri as they call it, chicken to happy customers all across the country. Well, Nando’s Afro-Portuguese rooster just got some new competition in town. And that too from another Afro-Portuguese chain of restaurant!
Barcelos opened the doors to its first Pakistani location in Lahore this month. Situated parallel to Mall 99 on the Main Boulevard, the restaurant has brought its Peri-Peri infused chicken to spice up the Lahori cuisine scene. Sounds like déjà vu? It is!
The similarities between Nando’s and Barcelos are just too many to ignore. Let’s start with the rooster for one. Inspired by the legend of the Pilgrim accredited to the Portuguese town of Barcelos, both chains strut the image of the Portuguese rooster as their identifying icon. Barcelos the restaurant, has of course, borrowed the name from the Town of the Rooster as well. Giving the Barcelos poster a quick glance, the hurried onlooker can be excused for confusing it with another Nando’s advertisement.
Waiters clad in black greet the customers entering Barcelos. The interior is spacious and airy, a plus considering the increasingly congested restaurants sprouting on MM Alam Rd. It is a place designed in accordance with the expected clientele of families. There is no loud music or funky décor. The only attempt made to appear a bit hip for any youngsters that wander in is the presence of sofa seats on one side of the restaurant. There are the usual circular and rectangular seating arrangements as found in most casual dining establishments. It is interesting to note that the kitchen, situated near the entrance, has intentionally been left open-ended. A confidence building measure for the customers, the visibility of the serving area goes well with the clean look of the place.
The wooden tables, textured walls and the central artwork of tree trunks do evoke the South African origins of the chain but not enough to label the ambiance as cozy.
The waiters were quick to provide a menu and the appetisers arrived soon. The Peri Peri hummus was perfectly light and creamy. The accompanying pita bread was probably some of the softest I have had in Lahore. However, the Greek salad, dressed in the special Barcelos sauce, did not taste special at all. Considering that Barcelos has a menu uncannily similar to that of Nando’s, my fellow diners and I decided to taste-test the Chicken Espetada. Chunks of flame grilled chicken with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes served on a giant skewer were accompanied by a side of spicy rice. Like Nando’s, Barcelos too has a spice metre with supa-peri being the hottest. Spice lovers are recommended to order one level up from the sauce they prefer at Nando’s as Barcelos sauces are blander.
The Espetada tasted like a skewer of shashlik-style chicken available at most Pakistani restaurants and the rice lacked in freshness and flavour. Agitar-Fritar, a veggie and chicken stir-fry, was quite good. The potato wedges on the side were a disappointment, though. Hard and tasteless, they could be a negative for a restaurant aiming to conquer the hearts of families with young children. The flame grilled chicken, for which both chains of restaurants claim to have the original and authentic recipe, was perfectly seasoned and grilled — crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
We decided to bypass the ordinary brownie and order the exotic sounding Pinchos de Frutas for dessert. The two skewers of lightly caramelised fruit with a serving of chocolate fudge on the side summed up the dinning experience at Barcelos — not too bad and nothing too special. Even though their pricing is slightly higher than their direct competitor, with an average of Rs700 per head, Barcelos is still a cheaper option than most restaurants. Let’s see if this new rooster in town will be able to mark its territory in the highly competitive Lahori cuisine business.