WHAT the f**k did Aggie just do? Aggie, the outgoing and charming (and very broad), Fijian hostess at Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant had just given the Baroness of Balmain an almighty whack square on her forehead while walking past our table. It was so loud it turned the heads of other diners.
The Baroness and I had just finished the best meal we had eaten during our two-week stay in Fiji and now, on our last night on the island, one of us just had to get assaulted by a local.
Baroness is not one to shy away from anything – she stands her ground and will thump back (though anyone may want to think twice before taking Aggie on). I was ready for a showdown. I was also contemplating how much money was possibly needed to raise bail in case the Baroness struck harder and Nadi’s finest were called in.
So, what sparked this sudden spate of madness by Aggie after having just served a particularly decent mojito to us to finish a wonderful meal? A mere mosquito. It seemed Aggie was concerned more about Baroness being bitten by the large mozzie that had just landed on her (and therefore possibly contracting some tropical sickness), than worrying about any resulting concussion or brain damage that may have followed from a swift blow to her forehead. I suppose it was authentic Fijian hospitality at the extreme.
Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant overlooks the ritzy waterways of Port Denerau just a few kilometers west of Nadi on Fiji’s main island – Viti Levu. The Port is home to some fairly expensive real estate and pleasure craft and also has snazzy shopping boutiques and other fine restaurants as well as Fiji’s Hard Rock Cafe.
The restaurant is at the end of the Port Denerau pier and has a small indoor seating area as well as outside tables. As this is the South Pacific, it’s better to be outdoors on one of the many wooden tables that extend from the main restaurant to the edge of the water (where you can hear the Fijian band play what seems the same serenades you hear on every day boat trip in Fiji) while watching the sun set over the water and against the backdrop of the boats. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing people dining inside. Kids are well entertained by the band or by the waiting staff.
I had the preconception that Fijian cuisine was all about basic pig, fish and root vegetable dishes (read: boring). Well, I was wrong – chicken is also a staple and the dishes we had were far from boring.
The menu features what seems to be Fijian specialties, Indian influences, and some “tourist and child-friendly” items. For example there are chicken winglets marinated in honey and soy and cooked in chilli sauce (FJD$12); pork spare ribs with barbecue sauce (FJD$16.50); soups (from FJD$9); fish dishes like Ika Vakalolo (FJD$30) which is a pan-fried walu steak simmered in a lolo, tomato and onion sauce; prawns in coconut curry (FJD$35); fish and chips (FJD$25) and beef curry (FJD$30).
There are also daily specials written on a backboard outside – tonight it featured lamb curry (FJD$30), whole coral trout as well as another coral trout dish (FJD$45), and local lobster (FJD$53).
The wine list is adequate with a cross-section of styles from Australia and New Zealand. We had a bottle of the Villa Maria Pinot Gris (FJD$55).
For entree, I had kokoda (FJD$16) (pn: kokonda) which is a Fijian specialty. It’s like ceviche – raw fish that is basically “cooked” using the acid from limes. It was served in a boat-shaped bowl and consisted of pieces of chunky fish immersed in what is known as miti – a sort of cold “soup” of coconut milk with diced capsicum, mild chili and onions. To the side was a wedge of lime, peppers and a small shredded salad. It was truly a very good dish. The fish was “cooked” with limes which also added flavour and seasoning, and the tangy and creamy coconut broth was an excellent accompaniment. An ideal fresh and light dish for such a warm, tropical evening. What was exciting about the dish was the freshness of the ingredients. Having spent two weeks in Fiji we had not come across such fresh produce and as a result most other meals had seemed mediocre. Our waiter told us that the restaurant grows all its own vegetables so they don’t have to rely on any suppliers. Nadina also extracts its own coconut cream and milk (so no tinned ingredients are used).
Baroness had the Viti-Levu style prawn cocktail with a “bush fern salad” (FJD$18). The dish is named after Fiji’s main island. Even though there is no shame in having a prawn cocktail (versions of it have made a comeback in many fine Australian restaurants), we debated as to whether it would come out in a typical ’70s champagne saucer. Alas, our hope for a true retro experience was dashed when a bowl arrived. The dish featured large prawns topped with a “lolo cocktail sauce” and was accompanied by slices of cucumber, tomato and small bush fern leaves. Again, freshness of the produce was incredible. Baroness commented that after seeing the ripe, crimson tomatoes she suddenly released that she was longing for salad – something we hadn’t seen during the whole stay. The prawn cocktail didn’t disappoint. It was true to form with the lolo dressing slightly spicy and tangy and packed with tomato and coconut cream flavours. Again, an ideal dish for the tropics.
For the main I was tempted to order what was highlighted as Navinda’s signature dish – kovu – a Fijian cooking style where you could have fish, prawn, chicken, pork or vegetables – marinated in ginger, turmeric and onion – which is then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed (FJD$35 to FJD$40). It was going to take 40 minutes to cook and the waiter was persuading me towards the kete-ni-vuaka (pork belly), so I decided to go with his advice.
The pork belly (FJD$33) was served with rou rou (steamed taro leaves that are cooked in coconut cream); a small pumpkin dish infused with cumin and a slightly spicy eggplant dish. You could also chose between dalo (taro root) or mashed potato or sweet potato. I went with dalo. Again it was emphasised by our waiter that all the produce was grown by the restaurant. The pork belly was excellent – moist, smoky and succulent. It was drenched in a rich and flavorsome tomato concasse.
The vegetable sides were fresh and delicious. The rou rou was like steamed spinach sweetened with coconut cream. The pumpkin and eggplant were where the Indian Fijian influences were highlighted – fresh and wonderfully seasoned – and not unlike tiny vegetable curries. The only downside was the dalo – I found it lacked any flavour but as it is a Fijian staple I had to give it a go. Mashed sweet potato probably would have been a better accompaniment to the smoked pork belly.
Baroness finds it hard to resist lobster. Nadina had a special – local 500g Yasawa Reef lobster with a bush lemon and garlic sauce (FJD$53). It was a no-brainer. What she got was superb (especially for the price). Again the dish was served with the same vegetable sides I had but Baroness wisely chose mashed potato instead of dalo.
I struggled in coaxing the Baroness to give me a flake of flesh. The whole lobster was halved with the meat still in its body and drizzled with the bush lemon and garlic butter-based sauce. It was an excellent serving for the price and was tender and sweet with the accompanying sauce light and citrisy without being too overpowered by garlic. It certainly left Baroness very contempt and happy.
There is not much in the choice of desserts. I had the baked banana with toffee syrup and ice cream (FJD$9.50) and for the Baroness: banana pancakes with toffee syrup and ice cream (FJD$12.50). We could have had steamed grated tavioka (cassava), instead of banana but having tried a not-up-to-scratch dish at our resort, I never want to have cassava again.
We topped off the evening with a couple of very good mojitos (FJD$16.50) followed by a free slap on the forehead – an act of endearment, Fijian style.
The verdict: Be amazed by the freshness of the produce and the size of the meals. Don’t expect typical Fijian service – the waiting staff are actually quick; efficient and attentive, and meals come out well prepared and timely. A wonderful pier location overlooking the harbour where you can listen to a local band while watching the sun set. Kids are certainly welcome. Wished we discovered it earlier. Bring mozzie repellent if you don’t want to be slapped!
What: Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant, Port Denarau Marina, Shop R1 & R2, Denarau Island, Viti Levu, Fiji. Phone: +679 675 0290. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ate there: 11 January 2013.
Note: FJD$1 = A$0.53 or US$56 at time of writing.