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Friday 17 August 2018

Casa do Frango – Exceptional Quality and Value Portuguese Piri Piri Chicken, Vinho Verde and Pastel de Nata!

Name: Casa do Frango

Where: 32 Southwark Street, London SE1 1TU, https://www.casadofrango.co.uk/

Cost: A 3-course meal plus a side cost on average £25-£30 per person (not including drinks or service). The menu is short but well thought out. Frango (half chicken) is the star and the signature dish of the menu (£9 per portion). Starters cost from £4 to £10 such as chilled Algarvian gaspacho (£5), Bacalhau and chickpea salad (£7), Grilled prawns (£8), or Octopus rice (£10). Sides include African rice (£5), Lettuce salad (£3) and Batatas fritas, (fries, £4).

About: Casa do Frango is a beautiful and airy restaurant on the busy Southwark Street, just around the corner from Borough Market. It is on the 1st floor of a rather dull, corner building though with its vaulted ceiling, a huge glass skylight, and an inspired interior design that fills the space with plants and gorgeous furniture, Casa do Frango is a lovely dining spot.

Casa de Frango’s fresh and modern look really sets it apart from other Portuguese or pseudo-Portuguese eateries like the more traditional, cheap & cheerful piri piri chicken joints in Stockwell (I visited these a lot during my spell in Dulwich and highly recommend them) or the Nando’s chain, which is in fact is South African owned.

Casa do Frango is the result of travels and food expeditions in the South of Portugal by three friends - Marco Mendes (himself Algarvian-English), Jake Kasumov and Reza Merchant. Their mission is to bring to London the real flavour of Algarvian piri piri chicken to folks in London.

To this end, they brought in a specialist “pitmaster” from the Algarve to ensure that the dishes, particularly the frango, which is roasted on an impressive wood charcoal grill at the heart of the open plan kitchen, deliver the promised regional authenticity.

What We Ate: The Algarvian Gaspacho (£5) was cooling and flavoursome, the small pieces of sourdough bread, cucumber, tomatoes and pickled garlic added a lovely texture. I could have done with more seasoning but my companion felt it was just right.

With its thick but crispy batter the Super Bock Beer Battered Whitebait (£6) was lifted by its delectable, smoked paprika aioli.

Grilled Prawns (£8) with piri piri, white wine and parsley, a serving of four well-sized prawns, had a lovely charred flavour from the grill, but the much anticipated heat from the piri piri sauce wasn’t really noticeable.

The Octopus Rice (£10) was a shade too far on the side of pale. The octopus was tender but the rice was overcooked and thus unpleasantly gummy and soft. It also lacked seasoning, which was rather disappointing.

Much better though was the Bacalhau and Chickpea Salad (£7) with slivers of salted cod, chickpeas, black olives, and a generous serving of creamy mayonnaise and soft-boiled egg. We loved this salad.

We didn’t think we could eat any more but we soldiered on to the mains.

The Frango (1/2 chicken – one breast, thigh and leg on the bone) comes with three flavour choices: piri piri, oregano, and lemon and garlic. We ordered their star dish, the Frango Piri Piri (£9) - the chicken meat was very succulent, oozing with flavour and had the perfect amount of heat. The skin was crisp and delectable. Casa de Frango’s Piri Piri Chicken is probably the most flavoursome grilled chicken I have had in London for a very long time.

The other Frango we ordered was laced with oregano and garlic. Grilled as perfectly as its piri piri sister, it had distinctive herbal, garlic and salt flavours, which were a delight to tuck into, particularly for the wonderful crispy skin and the moist thigh and leg meat.

To accompany our Frangos, we ordered a number of sides - the African Rice (£5), a nod to the cultural influence of former colonies, had an infinitely better texture than the earlier Octopus version and was truly delicious.

It came with chorizo, plantain, garden peas, peppers, parsley topped with crispy chicken skin. It was a great accompaniment with a perfect balance of flavours and texture. It was so good I am featuring it again below!

The other two accompaniments were a very well-dressed lettuce salad (£3) and Batatas Fritas or chips (£4) which were sadly a tad under-cooked and so not crisp.

We could (or should) have stopped here, but we couldn’t resist ordering the traditional Pastel de Nata (£5) for dessert. The quintessentially Portuguese custard tart, it was deliciously creamy and sweet served with a small glass of refreshing coffee ice-cream.

What We Drank: The drinks menu offers cocktails and a good selection of Portuguese wines (prices ranging from £20 to £44 per bottle). We kicked off with the classic Portuguese Port & Tonic (£8), made with Churchill’s 10-year-old white port, tonic, mint and orange peel, which was perfect. The Portuguese version of Gin & Tonic (£8) made with Portuguese Gold grail gin, tonic, lime peel, rosemary, juniper berries and cardamom, was equally refreshing.

With our meal, we shared a bottle of Vinho Verde Muralhas de Monção (£26) made from Alvarinho grapes (albariño). It had a fresh and citrusy flavour, with a great structure, acidity and body- it conjured up summer by the beach.

Likes: Both Frangos piri piri and oregano ticked all the boxes – they were exceptional and I cannot recommend them highly enough. We also loved the grilled prawns (though more piri piri heat was needed) and the Bacalhau and chickpea salad. The African rice was also great. Very attentive, efficient and friendly staff. 

Dislikes: The starter section of the menu desperately needs to be looked at, especially the Octopus Rice (by far the weakest link) -  they lacked seasoning and texture and did not compare well with the wonderful frango that followed. Bacalhau is the trademark of Portuguese cuisine so it would be great to have a bacalhau main course on the menu (also as a pescatarian option) and perhaps Bolinhos de Bacalhau as a side or starter.

Verdict: Casa do Frango has the most flavoursome and perfectly grilled Piri Piri chicken in London right now - it was exceptional. The perfect meal here is Frango Piri Piri, Bacalhau and Chickpea Salad, and the wonderful African Rice (and chips too of course) followed by Pastel de Nata with coffee ice cream. It is excellent value too and I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

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