A night at Nanam
Four years ago, Jessabel Granada, along with her partner Andrew Soriano, took a brave step and created Nanam, a small restaurant in central Auckland that sold proper Filipino food.
Now based in Hurstmere Road, Takapuna, Nanam has evolved from an experimental venture with tasty food and a lot of potential, to what in my opinion is currently one of the best restaurants in Auckland.
I’d been meaning to pay Nanam a visit ever since an outcry from those in the know, when Jessabel and her team made it to the finals of Metro Magazine’s Top 50 Restaurants list but didn’t win. I wanted to see if they were correct when they argued that Jess and Andrew were robbed. So when I got the chance to eat there last night with a team of over a dozen other keen food lovers and friends, I was never going to say no!
And I’m so glad I did. From the beginning, Nanam promised something special – a ‘biyaheng Pinas’ – a trip to the Philippines, using seasonal, local ingredients.
A pretty pink Hibiscus Mojito started the evening, as we were served canape after canape. Empanadas with choko and black pepper; crab and rice wrapped in delicate nasturtium leaves, delicately-spiced kahawai and pork ‘Lumpia’ infused with ginger (think spring roll, only with more, intenser flavour), smoked eggplant and fresh tomato on black rice crackers…the morsels kept coming, each one drawing polite interest – slightly bordering on crowding! – from the assembled guests.
Being a bunch of foodwriters, there were definitely moments we all wondered if we’d ever actually eat these morsels of deliciousness – 15 people, all wanting to take photos of every dish before it’s served, would drive any non-food lover crazy! But eat we did…
Next came ‘Sisig’ – meaning ‘to sour’ – a small shared dish traditionally made from grilled and chopped pigs ears and cheeks – parts of the animal which Americans would typically have thrown away. Nanam’s version was made from lamb, seasoned in vinegar and served with calamansi juice, chopped onions and chicken livers. Served up on crisp iceberg lettuce, with crunchy water chestnut, the textures and flavours created a taste sensation that left us practically licking the plate. And still the plates kept coming!
The palate-cleansing Sinigang is a small, sour soup described as ‘the dish that brings people together; a little piece of home’. Traditionally made with tamarind, ours used seasonal quince, mixed with shrimp broth and radish. It was a moment to savour flavours, mull over what we’d tried so far, and reset for what came next.
To see an entire suckling pig created with so much love and pride just for your group is immensely humbling. This is a Filipino national dish that Jess and her team cooked, stuffed with lemongrass, tagalog, local garlic, ginger and shallots, for eight hours. Already stuffed, the table’s delight at being served such a treat – and served as fine dining, with gently-crisped crackling atop meat that pulled apart with a fork – was obvious. And quite loud – we were very impressed! Don’t expect fine dining-style seriousness over this dish though – served with these fabulous Mick Jagger/Angelina Jolie/Kylie Jenner (pick your own celebrity for this one!) bao buns (below), with gently-pickled cucumber and coconut rice wrapped in banana leaf, this is street food grown up.
With a beautifully balanced medley of desserts, again using local and seasonal ingredients, to finish, this night was one I’ll remember for a long time. While we were lucky enough to get the full celebration treatment, Nanam’s menu selection will have something to please everyone. There are sharing set menus from $48 and a tapas menu as well as mains, sides and dessert options; if you’re not sure about anything, though, the team are super-friendly, so just ask.
So, at the end, the question remained – were Nanam robbed when they weren’t labelled one of Auckland’s 50 best restaurants by Metro? Without a doubt, yes. Metro’s penchant for only picking restaurants within a few kms of Auckland’s CBD once again did them a disservice – they definitely missed a trick with this North Shore treasure.
That being said, Nanam don’t need accolades to be known as a great restaurant. A packed room full of happy diners, foodwriters falling over themselves to try more food, and a tangible passion for their craft gives Jess and her talented team the win every time. If you haven’t tried Filipino food before, this is the way to do it.
To check out Nanam’s menu, visit https://nanam.co.nz/menus/