A Taste of NAVO

mailife - - Food - By SEONA SMILES

It wasn’t an aus­pi­cious start. It was hard to ap­pre­ci­ate the awe­some sur­round­ings of the In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Fiji Golf Re­sort and Spa with trop­i­cal rain chun­der­ing down. Then I dropped my note­book in a pud­dle. To be fair, it had seeped in un­der our ta­ble, but none of us felt like shift­ing be­cause we were al­ready well away with chat of flavours, tex­tures and food gen­er­ally and be­gin­ning to feel down­right peck­ish. On most nights, Chef Leon Hawkins Hat­ton-Jones told us, most peo­ple would be sit­ting out­side where there were won­der­ful water fea­tures in­clud­ing la­goon views, Nata­dola Bay, a water wall and sur­round­ing pool, just not rain. That was okay, we were fine with it and in any case, it dried up later. Chef Leon is top man of a 110 mem­ber chef team, 19 of them in the Navo sig­na­ture spe­cialty din­ing res­tau­rant, six of whom were busy be­hind a glass walled kitchen tonight. Chef Leon is from South Africa, from a fam­ily that has pro­duced three chefs, and he’s been around – Kenya, Namibia, then se­lected to go to Prague, then Is­tan­bul for fur­ther ex­po­sure to in­ter­na­tional cuisines. He’s been in Fiji for only a few months, but I sensed he was al­ready mak­ing a dif­fer­ence. He has been sourc­ing lo­cally many of the sort of spices and tastes he dis­cov­ered in other parts of the world, as well as new Fiji flavours. His chefs on show are en­cour­aged to leave their glass en­clo­sure and chat with guests about their meals. “We find our guests un­be­liev­ably re­cep­tive to try­ing Fiji foods and new flavours, it makes us proud to get so many com­ments in so many dif­fer­ent ac­cents.”

Amongst the in­no­va­tions and new equip­ment that have come in with Chef Leon is the sous-vide method in which meats or veg­eta­bles are vacuum sealed in a plas­tic pouch and put in a cir­cu­lat­ing water bath of 41 de­grees for sev­eral hours. I’d never heard of it but my din­ing com­pan­ion who had re­cently been to Paris reck­oned she knew all about it. Any­way, the point is the slow cooked food re­tains mois­ture and be­comes amaz­ingly ten­der. A plate with a medal­lion of beef cooked to an ex­quis­ite right­ness and slightly seared on the out­side, ap­peared be­fore us to try. I was glad I had re­strained my­self over the chili and herb but­ters with the re­sort’s own gluten free, low GI bread, in our case sour­dough, that had al­ready ap­peared on the ta­ble. They make their own pasta also. On the bread plate I came across the highly rated Mal­don salt, which is flaky rather than coarse crys­tals, melts in the mouth and ap­par­ently doesn’t clog ar­ter­ies. Our en­trée or­ders ar­rived – seared scal­lops with broc­coli puree and black pep­per-palm sugar sauce as rec­om­mended by the chef for our ho­tel guide, Florence Law, and an ab­so­lute win­ner for my com­pan­ion – Fiji pork belly with chili pineap­ple chut­ney and white radish. I in­sisted on the lob­ster kokoda, be­cause I had never had lob­ster that way be­fore. It was served in a small lali drum that con­tained a sur­pris­ingly large amount, with small pieces of nama in the co­conut cream that gave it a de­light­ful lift. Chef Leon is re­ally keen on nama, sea grapes, and its fresh crunch turns up in sur­pris­ing places. The Chef’s own favourite fancy runs to curry, par­tic­u­larly Malaysian style with lots of gin­ger and cumin, lemon grass, chilli and per­haps pa­prika, and co­rian­der (but no curry pow­der). Don’t scorn it, he won a com­pe­ti­tion with his curry. His en­thu­si­asm for us­ing new and in­ter­est­ing com­bi­na­tions of in­gre­di­ents is catch­ing on. He gives his chefs a weekly ‘mystery bas­ket’ of in­gre­di­ents as seen on tele­vi­sion, and chal­lenges them to be in­ven­tive. “I don’t be­lieve in the old fash­ioned way of shout­ing at chefs and mak­ing jump to your de­mands. I’m about hav­ing an open mind, open to new cul­tures, say­ing thankyou and please. I en­cour­age them to try ex­cit­ing new food com­bi­na­tions. They love it.” An­other in­no­va­tion is the weekly spe­cial, which fea­tures an in­gre­di­ent that is of es­pe­cially good qual­ity or has just be­come avail­able or in sea­son. This week it was mahi mahi fish, fresh off the boat. Some of the ways it was be­ing served were on dis­play be­hind the glass at the en­try. Af­ter a de­light­fully cleans­ing co­conut sor­bet we were ready for the mains. I hadn’t take much per­suad­ing to try the pas­trami dusted mahi mahi, served with blocks of lay­ered po­tato done in the way I think do it, but ob­vi­ously don’t achieve. I was first to start and last to fin­ish, savour­ing every de­li­cious mouth­ful of flaky, flavour­some fish. Oth­ers opted for the mahi mahi, but Fi­jian style to see how well it was done (gold star, ap­par­ently). In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal is ob­vi­ously the place to take ad­van­tage of the seafood. Guest favourites in­clude Vakalolo Hot Pot, with fish driz­zled in gar­lic in­fused olive oil, nama, and co­conut; seared yellofin tuna with glazed turnip, crispy po­lenta and pars­ley puree (but on the menu only if the fish is good), and grilled Ya­sawa is­land lob­ster, served sim­ply.

There is a classy veg­e­tar­ian menu also that in­cludes Pump­kin Cream Cheese Tortellini, Grilled Po­lenta and Haloumi, and Green Peas with Shi­itake Mush­rooms. This sparked a lively dis­cus­sion about new lo­cal pro­duce in­clud­ing mush­rooms and as­para­gus. Some Suva-ites were scep­ti­cal, but peo­ple swore to see­ing beet­root and a range of herbs that would flavour dishes from French to is­land style. As ever, the kitchen con­cern is a reg­u­lar sup­ply main­tain­ing qual­ity while the farmer’s con­cern is for a re­li­able mar­ket­ing sys­tem. Although al­ready re­plete, when Chef Leon asked if we would like him to whip us up a dessert we could only say “ab­so­lutely”. What to say about a mud pud­ding with an in­te­rior of liq­uid choco­late at one end of the plate and an amaz­ing home made ice­cream (ice­cream ma­chines an­other in­no­va­tion) at the other, linked by a noo­dle and what the Chef likes to call ‘rub­ble’. This one had crum­bled mac­a­roon, dried rasp­berry and choco­late amongst other flavours, while other com­bi­na­tions lift the ex­cite­ment level from en­trees to af­ters. If noth­ing on the menu suits, Chef Leon’s team are ready to dish off-menu re­quests. If Navo res­tau­rant doesn’t do it for you, de­spite their adults only din­ner hours and jazz brunch on Sun­days, there is buf­fet din­ing at Sanasana where they fea­ture themed din­ing nights in­clud­ing a Fi­jian feast, or Toba Bar and Grill that has wood-fired piz­zas and healthy sal­ads. And if there is ro­mance on the menu, be­spoke din­ing can de­liver in a pri­vate din­ing room or un­der the stars in a beach­side ca­bana. So many op­tions, only one stom­ach. Also the re­sort is a 35 acre site and I was be­gin­ning to won­der how we would wad­dle back to our rooms when an elec­tric buggy ar­rived qui­etly to pick us up. A good night’s sleep and we would be ready for the rec­om­mended mud crab omelette for break­fast.

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