Before last week, my one experience of Nando’s had been a rather nasty meal at its Cowley Road operation shortly after it opened six or seven years ago in what had previously been the Prince of Wales pub. The sweet taste of the glutinous coleslaw remains with me to this day. As can be imagined, then, I didn’t exactly rush to sample the second Oxford branch when it opened at the beginning of the year at the west end of George Street, where the Opium Den used to be.

I had noticed, though, that the place did seem to be astonishingly popular. Through the big wide windows, which have the effect of putting customers on public display, crowds of happy eaters could be seen tucking in, day and night. Stung by recent accustations that my taste in this column is exclusively up-market, I resolved to check out the appeal of this busy down-market establishment. Rosemarie and I tried it out last Wednesday night and – let me say straightaway – were quite pleasantly surprised.

My first eye-opener was a rather wider than expected choice of fare. My recollection of that earlier meal, was that you could have anything you liked as long as it was chicken. Now, though fowl in its various forms still predominates, you can order things like veggie burgers and salads as an alternative.

Nando’s styles itself Portuguese, although it was set up 21 years ago in South Africa. It now has more than 200 restaurants in the UK. The menu boasts of its chicken that it is “only the freshest, and never frozen” . The chicken is then “marinated for 24 hours in our natural Peri-Peri [red chilli pepper] sauce, grilled to order over an open flame to reduce fat content and basted to your taste to control the spiciness and served as you want it”.

The reference to fat content suggests that the restaurant make a gesture in the direction of healthier eating. At the end of our evening, in conversation with the Portuguese manager, Pedro, we learned that the companyhas also made major strides in reducing the quantity of salt in the food.

Pedro was actually the first person we met on arriving at Nando’s. His warm welcome at the door, and concise explanation of how things work here, gave us an excellent first impression of the place. How things work, basically, is that you sit down at a table, make your choice from the menu, go to the bar to order and pay for the food (having given the table number) and then go back to your seat to await its arrival.

The slight complication with the way we planned it was that we decided to go for starters. Would it be possible to delay the mains while these were eaten? Pedro made it his business to see that this happened. We thoroughly enjoyed our houmous and warm pitta bread, which was enlivened by a drizzle of Peri-Peri sauce, and the generous bowl of spicy mixed olives. There were huge green ones and smaller black ones, along with whole cloves of garlic, and pieces of red pepper and chilli. They cost about the same as you would pay for a similar quantity in a delicatessen.

From the salad section of the menu. I chose a main course that was distinguished by the appelation NEW. Couscous salad sounded rather good, with its promise of perly balls of couscous, chunks of butternut squash and roasted red onion with sweetcorn and more of those big green olives. I am delighted to report that it tasted very good, too, expecialy with its hint of coriander (than which, surely, there is no more delicious herb).

The meat ingredient was provided by a flame-grilled chicken breast, which I chose with the lime and herb ‘basting’, if that’s the word, the least hot of those on offer. Higher up the list, I was told, is strictly for those with asbestos-lined stomachs. I also ordered a roasted portobello mushroom which was good to eat (and should have been, you’re probably thinking, for £2.40).

Rosemarie’s choice was one of the menu’s specials, the Prego steak roll, a juicy piece of beef steak marinated in garlic, basted with Peri-Peri, flame-grilled and placed inside a crusty roll.

Since this was not particularly filling, she continued with a portion of crunchy lemon pudding, its crushed biscuit base oddly reminiscent of those seventies’ cheesecakes.

I tried the bottomless frozen yoghurt, so called because you can return for a refill as often as you wish (as you can also do with soft drinks here). I returned for the sweet strawberry extrusion only once since I wish to remain, if not bottomless, then certainly with less bottom.