Weekend Herald - Canvas
A restaurant where the food speaks for itself
The city was squelchy. Wet leaves, wet carpets, wet umbrellas. A saturated hellscape of damp and grump. You couldn’t see the top of the Sky Tower and, at 5.30pm on a Friday, it was almost certain the trip to Takapuna was going to take until breakfast.
One of the (many) things I don’t understand about Auckland is why, when it rains, every single person gets into their car. The flip side? The buses are emptier than a wallet before pay day.
Catch the number 75 from outside The Civic and you’ll be outside Nanam in less than half an hour. You’ll also be considerably less stressed than those who chose the no-cocktails-i’m-driving option. (The taxi home is practically a bus fare to Hamilton but at least you won’t be in Hamilton. I love Hamilton, but Duck Island Ice Cream has a shop on Ponsonby Rd now).
Nanam started life in Three Kings. It opened to rave reviews and I’d tried to get in multiple times but Auckland’s first famous Filipino restaurant was always full. Then it moved to the North Shore and, well, life is short.
In the meantime, Filipino food got REALLY big. Such is the growth of the cuisine in this city, you can now google a Top 10 list. For my money, and, might I suggest, your own hard-earned cash, there is no competition. Nanam is the best.
A couple of very minor complaints. The food comes fast. The dining room is lovely and so are those cocktails and I would have liked to linger longer between courses. Also, the dish I was most looking forward to was not available. Is there a more of-themoment menu descriptor than confit kahawai with wild samphire, watercress and a crispy rice net? Next time, I hope.
There’s no such thing as a brief history of the Philippines and that shows in its food. The onceisland kingdoms that traded with Asian neighbours have been ruled by the Spanish, Americans and the Japanese. Independence was achieved in 1946 but a turbulent past is imbued in its cuisine. A hemisphere
away from Espana, we started our dinner with tapas.
Longannisa is a skinless sausage. Nanam’s is beef, spiked with lemongrass and wrapped in a grilled wheat tortilla. Smoky, citrussy, juicy, creamy and insanely good value at $11 a serve. I know they’re super-famous for their “taco pao”, a plump and showy beetroot-stained, pulled pork-filled steamed bun but don’t miss this Cinderella of the small plates section. It was, sincerely, the best thing I’ve eaten this year.
Second favourite tapa? The ensaladang talong — eggplant ($11), cooked to mush and heaped on brown rice cracker shards, with a multiplicity of multicoloured tomatoes and fresh herbs. It is, without doubt, a labour-intensive dish but some of Nanam’s charm is that no one stands tableside lecturing you into gratefulness. Humble? That feels like a patronising cop-out. Confident, I think. A kitchen and waitstaff happy to let the food speak for itself.
Whole-roasted suckling pig is a Filipino specialty. Here, the lechon ($27) is served manageably as two slabs of belly that don’t scrimp on the fat that melts perfectly in your mouth once you crunch through the crackling. Perfect. Cut the caldereta ($27) with a spoon, which you’ll then use to scoop every drop of the slightly piquant red pepper sauce the beef cheek is bathing in. Oh, and it comes with mushrooms and a genius cap of braised lettuce, so a side of beans adobo ($8) is not entirely necessarily but that sweetsour profile that pervades Filipino food is nothing if not moreish. Okay, we also had the kumara ($8). Carbohydrate candy. I could barely eat dessert.
What James liked best about the green tea mousse with about 1000 other components — including the Ovaltine it was presumably (but not definitely) named for — is that all of those components were distinct yet also worked together. A $15.50 capsule wardrobe for your mouth.
I had the bibingka ($15.50), which was like a sophisticated version of condensed milk boiled in a can. Feijoa for sharpness. Coconut icecream for coolness. Basil lemon curd for — I don’t even know what but I was glad they had. Take the bus, share a cab, drive your own car if you must but if you haven’t been back to Nanam since it shifted to the Shore, make amends soon.