It wasn’t the best start. I learn almost as soon as I step foot in this now infamous Victoria eatery that it’s not possible to get a seat at ‘Chuka’s table’. This request was met with a blank expression, possibly because, as a solitary diner, it would be impractical to take up a space big enough to seat a political movement. Or perhaps the waiter didn’t know who I was talking about. I was given a small table by a wall instead, sandwiched between two pairs of girls (never a bad place to be) and handed a menu.
Nando’s, a Mozambican-Portuguese fusion restaurant, serves chicken to varying degrees of texture and complexity, from ‘Lemon and Herb’ to ‘Extra Hot.’ It is also the establishment of choice of the new Independent Group, so I had to try it for myself.
After some time, I went to the counter to complain at the delay, only to be told that going up to order was the done thing. Drinks, cutlery and condiments were also my responsibility, and unlike an MP, I didn’t have an aid to fetch them for me. It was a novel concept, but, I think, an important cultural observation: Mozambican-Portuguese fusion cuisine, like life, can be simple, but is not necessarily easy. Only those who toil to provide for themselves can eat, and making customers work for their meal reminds us, in our hyper-convenience driven lives, of that reality.
Quite what the ‘Tiggers’ thought of this is anyone’s guess. No doubt drummed into it by someone in PR, you can tell they felt this would be a good photo opportunity. Culturally diverse, affordable, with an emphasis on doing things for yourself. What’s not to love? But it didn’t go smoothly. Anna Soubry, for instance, seemed to miss the memo about her not appearing distant from the rest, by not ordering any chicken and getting a bottle of water, rather than using the self-service machine like a normal person. Dr. Sarah Wollaston, nanny state afficionado, looked deeply apprehensive about the amount of carbohydrate and meat on the table.
The staff at Nando’s, though friendly, had a very laid-back attitude to bringing me my beer. It’s an ethos very much in keeping with the Independent Group: better to set up a centrist party opposing Brexit with days to go, rather than rush into it months or years before, after all.
Starting with something familiar, the hummus, threw up a bit of a surprise – something called ‘Peri Peri Drizzle’. Intrigued, I applied the sauce to the dip, and was delighted by the tang I was met with. This is very much an interactive experience; it is important to get to grips with the food, to appreciate the reality of its concoction. Using cutlery, after all, only serves to distance and desensitize us from the manner, often horrible, of how that hummus came to be on our tables. Of course, that’s not why the Tiggers came; they just think the general public eat with their hands, and thought they should do the same.
The wings, when they arrived, were so hot they burnt my fingers. Maybe that’s why Heidi Allen had such a large portion – she was making a statement about the pain she had gone through in leaving the Tories. Or maybe it was a subliminal admission that the group are winging it. Or maybe there’s just something of the raptor about her.
The chicken thighs were equally fatty, but the real treat on the menu are the livers; an explosion of offal in the oral cavity, daring and delicious. Unsurprisingly, none of the centrist MP’s took a gamble on them.
That is not to say that everything was positive. The Fino Chicken Pitta was overpowered by halloumi to give it an overly salty hue, a taste Soubry has become well acquainted with.
The sides, too, were a let down. The fries were soggy, the mash was stolid, and the macho peas reinforced damaging gender stereotypes. All in all, it was the perfect place to advertise the new political movement: unthreatening, middle of the road, progressive, and very ‘centrist party.’
Quite how the Tiggers made such a mess of it is anyone’s guess.
Benedict Spence was reviewing Nando’s Victoria