Monkey Fingers

The Nando’s obsession is over! Well, it’s not quite over: let’s just say it’s been usurped by an equally-addictive and gruesomely-unhealthy eaterie that goes by the name of Meat Liquor.

I’m not quite sure how to describe Meat Liquor. It’s part of a rising tide of restaurants all purporting to be the ‘all-American dining experience’: vying for business with the likes of Gourmet Burger King, Byron’s and Red’s True Barbecue (a hellish place where you are basically force-fed mounds of meat and have to lie down for at least an hour after to recover).

But back to Meat Liquor. The name itself conjures up images of shot glasses being filled with the slimy, fattening juices of a plumped-up Christmas turkey. In reality, it’s a stripped down burger joint that largely serves root beer and sticky chicken wings.

Once you’re in its greasy clutches, there really is no escape.

Let’s backtrack slightly. The husband and I have recently developed this weird weekend ritual. This is how is goes. We park up in Headingley at approximately 1pm on Saturday. We visit Salvo’s Salumeria for lunch, partaking in their pasta special (no one cooks a better pasta).

From there, we set off on foot into the city, occasionally – depending on the weather and levels of greed – buying an ice-cream en-route from the excellent Ecco Pizzeria.

The two-mile urban walk down Otley Road weaves its way past a number of intriguing locations. Just past the bustle of central Headingley and the famous Original Oak beer garden, there’s a strange place set back slightly from the road called Hinsley Hall. And in its grounds – just a stone’s throw from students staggering past on the Otley Run – are grazing horses. Yep, horses in Headingley! Who knew?!

We continue past a clutch of beautiful Victorian villas, which once stood grand in their heyday but have now been carved up and populated by students. It’s quite a sad old sight (spot the dejected husband!).

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But one road in particular Ashwood Villas – home to various University dons with its cobbled entrance and blooming gardens – has managed to retain some of its original charm (spot the happy husband!).

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Ambling past various vintage shops and hippy hangouts, the route cut through Woodhouse Moor (often mistakenly called Hyde Park, much to the annoyance of locals) and the public toilets that were converted into a curry house years ago (but let’s be honest, never really lost their public toilets feel).

Eventually, after a pitstop at Friends of Ham for a class of Malbec (a brilliant little city centre bar that probably deserves a blog all of its own), we pitch up at the purple-curtained entrance our old friend Meat Liquor (I’m not sure on the thinking behind the purple curtain but it does make you feel like you’re entering a lap dancing bar).

Down the stairs we go, where we are greeted by a big-bellied, bearded hipster, who the husband and I have long called Ageing Hipster.

Ageing Hipster always asks if we’ve booked a table. We never have, so he huffs and puffs a little bit and scrolls through his computer system, while over his shoulder all we can see scores of empty tables. (I think Meat Liquor must have some kind of policy of trying to make themselves more popular than they actually are – a dangerous strategy, which I fear could ultimately spell their downfall.)

Meat Liquor is a dark basement restaurant, set to a backdrop of red lights, canteen-style wooden walls, parquet flooring and poster print wallpaper, emblazoned – ironically – with mock headlines like ‘Veggies on the rampage’ and ‘Fury of meat mentalists’.

In the corner of the room, is another stab at irony: a shimmery-curtained DJ area, which wouldn’t look out of place in Phoenix Nights.

On the formica tables, are an array of back-to-basics condiments and kitchen roll, while in the background they pump out a selection of indie rock: anything from Ocean Colour Scene, Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys and Guns and Roses.

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The menu itself is a stripped-back selection of burgers, American-style starters and various slaws (incidentally, when DID coleslaw get shortened to slaw?) all served up on plastic trays, with not a knife and fork in sight.

But one thing Meat Liquor have fallen victim to is the horrendous new trend of unisex toilets, also trailblazed by Everyman cinema. Restaurant and bar designers please take note: women do not want to share their toilets with smelly, drunken men, who leave the toilet seat up and basically wee everywhere but in the toilet itself.

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Disorientating decor and terribly toilets aside, there’s only one reason the husband and I have continue to frequent the dimly-lit depths of Meat Liquor. And that is for their hot wings, aka Bingo Wings on the menu.

Quite simply, they’re the best hot wings in town. They come as a starter but the husband and I are so obsessed with them, we have contemplated having a set of hot wings as our starter and then another set as our main, the burger being merely an after-thought.

For weeks, we’ve been heading to Meat Liquor now, gorging on piles  of hot wings, washed down with lashings of root beer.

But then the other weekend, the waitress said: ‘If you like hot wings, why don’t you try our monkey fingers; they’re basically identical to hot wings without the bones!’

A boneless version of our favourite-ever dish? The husband and I thought this sounded ideal so we ordered a set of monkey fingers along with a set of standard hot wings – for safety measures, of course.

But when the monkey wings arrived, they weren’t like hot wings at all: they were great slimy tendrils of deep-fried gloop.

Being ‘monkey fingered’ has now become some sort of euphemism for ill-fated greed and excess.

And because they had the same sweet-sour taste as the original hot wings and we felt the need to persevere in our consumption of them, we ended the meal clutching our stomachs in disgust and swearing never to darken the door of Meat Liquor again.

But of course, we found ourselves back in the greasy lair only the very next week.

Party Of One

It’s Saturday night and Leeds city centre is abuzz with happy folk, drinking, eating and shopping.

Somewhere in the middle of this merry revelry is yours truly: dining alone in Nando’s.

It’s a sad old sight. All around me people are chatting animatedly – occasionally casting suspicious/ sympathetic glances in my direction.

How I came to be tucking into a medium-spiced butterfly chicken sans dining partner boils down to two crucial factors:

1. The husband is stuck on a road somewhere in the French Alps. Due to a combination of taxi driver ineptitude, a land slide and a gargantuan boulder blocking the only passable way down the mountain, he has missed his flight home and is currently in an agitated state, attempting to book new flights back from the back of the taxi with limited phone signal and depleting battery power.

2. My addiction to Nando’s (previously blogged about here) is now so great that if I even go one week without sinking my chops into a peri-peri-flavoured meal, I start to get withdrawal symptoms. These can range from nightmares about being attacked by a giant red rooster to swigging peri-peri sauce straight from the kitchen cupboard.

Dining alone, especially on a Saturday night, is a tricky beast to pull off. As I travelled into town, I was already contemplating which of the city’s Nando’s would be best to confidently pull off my Carrie Bradshaw-esque solo dining experience.

Do I go for the quieter Nando’s, discreetly holed away upstairs somewhere? This would reduce the possibility of strange stares from fellow diners, yet almost certainly accentuate my solo-ness.

Or do I go for the bustling Trinity shopping centre where trendy hipsters will be too busy taking selfies to spare me more than a passing glance?

I plumped for the busy Nando’s.

Lo and behold, in front of me in the queue was another lonely diner: a Japanese student who used exaggerated arm movements to communicate that he needed a table for one.

Japanese student sorted, the waitress turned her attention to me.

‘Table for one,’ I said breezily, adopting the air of this-is-all-perfectly-normal.

The waitress studied me for just a fraction too long and for one horrifying moment I thought she was going to pair me up with the Japanese student, which would have been terribly awkward given he only had a rudimentary grasp of the English language.

I was so busy worrying about said scenario it was only when I had been deposited at my table and the waitress had departed, that I realised she had seated me – perversely – in the middle of a huge, empty table for 10!

There might as well have been a giant illuminated arrow pointing down on my head. Tag line: ‘This sad woman is dining alone.’

‘Excuse me,’ I said to another passing waitress. ‘This table is too big for me. There’s only me. It looks, well, a bit strange.’

‘I understand,’ she said, her eyes filled with pity. ‘I’ll get you a smaller table.’

After some conspicuous hovering around while I inwardly chanted, ‘I’m an independent W-O-M-A-N’, a smaller table was finally found for me, sandwiched awkwardly between two couples.

I join the queue to order.

My phone rings. It’s my sister.

‘Where are you?’ she says.

‘In Nando’s,’ I say. ‘About to gleefully stuff my gills with spicy chicken, fries and halloumi cheese.’

‘On your own?!’ she exclaims.

‘Er, yes,’ I say, in a small voice.

I glance back at my temporarily-abandoned table, just in time to see the original waitress obliviously seating another couple there. Nooo!

There’s a long pause on the phone.

‘You seriously need help,’ says my sister.

The Cockerel Has Crowed

It was always going to happen. No human can consume 70 Nando’s meals a year and come out unscathed.

Last Friday night, was the day I finally ‘turned’ on Nando’s.

Our weekly visit to Nando’s had started off well. Upon entry, usual protocol was followed: husband went to order meals (butterfly chicken medium for me/ half chicken medium for him, spicy rice, peri-peri chips and a side of halloumi, natch), while I collected cutlery, napkins and sauces (backroom Brenda).

The husband is also in-charge of the Nando’s loyalty card. We’ve earned about 10 red chillies now – the kind of top-level points that only come with a serious peri-peri habit.

For some reason though, the husband refuses to cash any of these loyalty points against a free meal. He likes to see the look of shock on the cashier’s face when he hands over the card. He wants the cashier to think ‘this guy is a serious player’.

The husband, on the other hand, claims his refusal to cash in his chillies is because he sees the Nando’s loyalty card as in insurance policy should we feel on hard times. If we go bankrupt, we can still treat ourselves for a meal out once a month for the lion’s share of a year. Also, he’s of the foolish opinion that accruing an abundance of chillies makes him one step closer to the coveted Nando’s Black Card. Dream on!

But when my butterfly chicken breast arrived, there was something horribly wrong with it. It was all pale, blubbery and seemed to be oozing copious amounts of water.

The waitress said she would get me another one. There was a long wait and when the new piece of chicken arrived it was even worse than the original one: this time, along with the blubbery wateryness, it was peppered with pink veins.

I was dealing with a bad batch of breasts! It was the fast food equivalent of the PIP scandal.

I went to get the manager and explain the problem. I wanted him to take me seriously so I took my Nando’s card with me.

‘I eat at least one butterfly chicken breast every week of the year,’ I said, proffering the loyalty card. ‘I know a bad breast when I see one. You only have to check our loyalty card to see how often we come here.’

The manager looked slightly out of his depth. Five minutes later, he returned with a chicken wrap.

‘I’m really sorry about that,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what was going on there. I’ve temped a few and I’ve binned a few, just to be sure.’

I was so busy hungrily tucking into my chicken wrap, I didn’t really catch what he said.

‘I think he said, ‘I’ve temped a few and binned a few?!” repeated the husband.

‘Which is a really weird thing to say. Why would he pop in the back and select a few breasts to randomly bin?!’

‘Surely if he’s going to bin them, he should bin the whole lot,’ I mused. ‘And what on earth is temping?’

I finished my wrap. Images of the blubbery chicken were still playing in my mind. I mouthed at the husband, ‘I think I’ve turned’.

It was only after that I wished I had taken photographic evidence of the blubbery, veiny breasts. Instead, you’ll have to make do with me clutching a bottle of peri-peri sauce and looking suitably doleful.

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‘I want to get out of here with the minimum fuss,’ I whispered. ‘Where’s the manager? I want to slip out without any more rigmarole.’

‘He’s nowhere to be seen,’ said the husband, glancing around. ‘He’s probably in the back, booting bad breasts’.

I’d half expected to see the manager pinning a sign up at the window saying ‘Sorry, no butterfly chicken here tonight’.

‘I doubt I’ll be darkening the doors of Nando’s EVER AGAIN,’ I said, dramatically.

The husband eyed me sceptically.

‘That’s a shame,’ he said. ‘Because we’ve now collected enough loyalty points for about 20 free meals.’

The Elusive Nando’s Black Card

Beckham’s got one; Jay-Z can’t live without his; Justin Timberleg’s in; and even scraggy-haired crooner Ed Sheeran’s somehow got his paws on one. I’m talking about something more exclusive than membership to Coutts and rarer than hen’s teeth themselves…

The Nando’s Black Card.

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Whisperings of its existence first surfaced on the web a few years ago but I’ve never heard of anyone outside of schleb circles being given one. It might even be an urban myth.

According to legend, owners of this exclusive card – also known as the High Five – can waltz into any Nando’s in the world, slip the card to the cashier (perhaps there’s even a secret handshake involved?) and receive unlimited food for free. There’s even a whole website dedicated to it.

In the heart of our local stomping ground of Chapel Allerton, a huge restaurant/ bar has just closed down. It’s a great venue: all glass fronted and on three levels. In its heyday it was called Angel’s Share and many a night was spent jostling glasses of wine, dodging doughy divorcees, and bumping along to Boogie Luv.

But despite the vintage bird wallpaper, great wine list and locally-sourced grub, its latest incarceration as a more high-brow eaterie called the Hummingbird just didn’t quite cut the mustard.

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The husband and I mulled over the sad demise of Angel’s Share/ Hummingbird with fellow Chapel Allerton-ers in the pub the other week. We came to the conclusion that it needed to attract a more loyal clientele – one that perhaps enjoyed spicy chicken, with a side of rice or fries, all drizzled in lashings of an addictive peri-peri sauce.

Basically, it needed to be a Nando’s.

By their second pint, the husband and friend Sam had decided, with 100 per cent certainty, that they were going to set up a franchise of Nando’s, right here on our doorstep.

‘We’re already spending £1500 a year on Nando’s,’ figured the husband, referring to our weekly addiction. ‘We might as well go the whole hog and buy a Nando’s. It’s the next logical step.’

The next morning, the husband hopped on the laptop to enquire about launching the all-new north Leeds leg of this spicy chicken success story.

But to his dismay, he found that Nando’s franchises weren’t an option in the UK.

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We pondered this problem for a whole.

‘I’ve got an idea,’ I said. ‘Perhaps we could still have a Nando’s business model but call it…’

‘…Nondo’s?!’ we both chimed at once.

I decided to write to Nando’s.

Dear Mr Nando,

My husband and I are weekly visitors to several of your establishments across Leeds, where we regularly enjoy a butterfly chicken breast and half-chicken respectively (with peri-peri salt fries, spicy rice, and an occasional side of halloumi).

Given our expertise, we feel there is a definite gap in the market for a Nando’s restaurant in Chapel Allerton, north Leeds, namely at the vacant premises formerly known as a the Hummingbird restaurant.

In return for this information and in light of the millions we believe you are likely to make, we are happy to forfeit our finder’s fee in exchange for one of your coveted Nando’s black cards.

Please send to the address above.

Yours Sincerely

I was about to hit send when my eyes fell upon ‘10 Things You Need To Know About The Nando’s Black Card‘.

I refer to point 8: ‘No-one who’s requested a card, no matter how politely, has ever received one. Asking for one is the biggest tattoo.

I immediately scrapped the letter.

But there is hope. Nando’s claims that anyone who can prove they’ve eaten in every restaurant across the world would receive free food for life.

I estimate we’ve visited 20 Nando’s across the UK.

Which means we only have another 1015 restaurants to go.

The Crack Cocaine of Fast Food

The husband and I have a guilty little eating obsession that we’ve been keeping quiet about for some time. Like most addictions, it crept up on us slowly – a brief visit here and there if we happened to be passing.

But the lure of Nando’s neon rooster soon became too much. Before we knew it, we were bombing down there every Sunday to ravenously stuff our jowls with spicy chicken, licking our greasy fingers feverishly, as peri peri sauce dribbled down our chins.

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In the unlikely event that you’ve never entered its dark doors, Nando’s is basically a fast food restaurant that specialises in Portuguese-style chicken, accompanied by bottles of peri peri sauce, which range from mild to extremely hot. One hit and you’re hooked.

Some people go to Nando’s for a date night; some for a fun night with friends. But we visit Nando’s purely to get our fix. There is no element of enjoyment involved; like true addicts, we’re only interested in getting in there, feeding the addiction and getting out as quickly as is humanly possible.

Having to wait for a table is our worst nightmare. But we’ve developed a method that works quite well: the husband joins the queue to order, while I await a table allocation. Once seated, I text the table number to the husband, usually with the parting message, ‘Do what you need to do’.

There’s no need to go through the motion of pretending to look at the menu. We both know exactly what we want. And the beauty of Nando’s is that there’s no waiter interaction involved; better still, because you’ve paid upfront you can get the hell out of there as soon as the gorge is over.

Sometimes we don’t even speak to each other as we hungrily tuck in, swamping our chicken in hot peri peri sauce and shovelling spicy rice down the hatch at a revolting speed. At the end of the feast, we both sit in subdued silence, clutching our stomachs and fighting a rising sense of self-loathing, swearing that this really will be the last time we visit this rotten establishment.

But, of course, the next week we’re back.

The lengths that we will go to sate our peri peri craving are quite extreme. We’ve been know to travel 20 miles out of our way just to sink our gnashers into a medium-spiced half chicken. We were once forced to get a Nando’s takeout and eat it in our car, in a darkened alleyway. With our bare hands.

At my lowest ebb, I once sat on my own in a Nando’s in London gluttonously feasting on a double chicken wrap. At midnight. After downloading an app called Find My Nearest Nando’s. It was sick.

The addiction took a brief hiatus after a bad incident with a bottle of peri peri sauce. Disembarking at Leeds train station after a weekend away, we dragged our suitcases through the city centre with only one destination in mind. We had arrived just before closing, where one of the waiters was busy unscrewing the tops of the sauces to clean them.

Unfortunately for the husband, I happened to pick up one of the loose-topped bottles, which slipped in my greasy hands and did a rather dramatic somersault through the air, simulataneously showering the husband head to toe in peri peri sauce.

The poor husband had to travel home covered in sticky sauce. His suitcase stunk of it for weeks after. We had about a month off after that – swearing that this Really Was The End and that we were through with that place Once And For All.

That was, until a little voice started whispering ‘peri peri chicken, peri peri chicken’ and the cycle of gluttony started all over again. Going cold turkey on the Nando’s rooster was never going to last.

The husband might say, ‘What do you fancy for dinner tonight? I was thinking a little bit of chicken, a little bit of rice…’

‘Hmm… a little bit of chicken and rice – with perhaps a… spicy sauce?’ I’d reply innocently.

‘What could be the harm in that?’