By Rajan Sami
Photos by Chris Sharma/Gallery Fiji, Wendy King
There was a ‘prodigal son returns’ quality to the one night only tasting menu that Fijian-Australian celebrity chef Louis Tikaram presented at Nanuku Resort in Pacific Harbour in late June.
The Brisbane-based chef briefly regaled diners — many of whom, like myself, had made the trek from Suva — with his memories of food growing up in a multicultural household in Lami at the start of the night.
“We would have Chinese style mud crab one night, then bean and roti the next,” he said, crediting his Chinese-Fijian grandmother for his love of cooking.
For the $225 per person degustation event at Nanuku (the first in a revived culinary series with visiting chefs), Tikaram looked to those early food memories and familiar dishes like kokoda and sui as a starting point, tweaking and tinkering with them until he arrived somewhere new.
His Tom Yum Kokoda married the hot and sour flavours of the stalwart Thai soup (lemongrass, fish sauce, lime juice and chillies) with the Fijian staple of raw fish cubes cured in citrus and doused in hand squeezed coconut milk.
It was one of many winning fusion dishes of the night, served alongside kokoda done the traditional way on a shared kanavata platter that also featured bara (spiced, deep-fried lentil patties) and tamarind chutney; San Choy Bao five-spiced braised pork belly; and thinly-sliced taro chips with green chili, octopus and coriander —a nod to Fiji and its many intermixing cultures on one platter.
Next up came steamed pakapaka caught fresh in Beqa Lagoon. Served filleted atop cabbage leaves in a warm bath of light soy, ginger and shallots; it was a contemporary take on Chinese style whole steamed fish. It was paired with a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region.
The vodka-infused mango and mint sorbet that followed was a little overpowering (with gritty bits of mint in it) and did not serve as the palate cleanser it was intended.
Tikaram’s elevated take on sui however, the meaty bone soup that is Fijian down-home cooking, more than made up for that misstep.
Twice-cooked beef short ribs were served in a naturally sweet and savory broth of lolo (cooked coconut milk) along with ota (fiddlefern), mint, chilli and lime. It was paired with a cabernet sauvignon from Australia’s Clare Valley.
For the first of two desserts, Tikaram sent out a sublime young coconut sago pudding with lime, papaya, pineapple and passionfruit.
The finale of petit fours (berry chocolate balls, chocolate coconut brownies and coconut toffee) that followed, however, was unremarkable.
The revelation for this writer, was how well Asian and South East Asian flavours worked with Fijian dishes given the commonality of many ingredients: coconut in its many forms and guises, different types of citrus, chillies and tropical fruit to name a few.
Through his tasting menu, Tikaram showed how Fijian food can be reinterpreted for audiences old and new: Fijians and travellers alike.
After finishing his teenage years in Mullumbimby, on the north coast of New South Wales in Australia, Tikaram has racked up an enviable career working in some of Sydney’s best restaurants like Longrain, Bentley and Tetsuya’s; and fronted two well-regarded So Cal joints E.P. and L.P. in West Hollywood, where he also made appearances on television food shows.
He is now back home championing Cantonese cuisine at the Stanley in Brisbane.
Tikaram earlier told Tasting Australia: “I really believe in flavorsome, healthy food—the kind of food I love to eat,” he says. “I’m not influenced by current trends, and I stay true to what I love to cook.” His Chinese-Fijian grandmother would be proud.
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