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October 15, 2015
Habits

Introducing: Niño’s Lamesita

We're calling it - the next food trend to blow up in Adelaide will be Filipino cuisine. That’s what’s up, Adelaide and you can get in on it with new North Terrace restaurant Niño’s Lamesita.

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  • Words: Michelle Gan and Louie Quilao
  • Pictures: Michelle Gan

Filipinos know how to eat food – actually they know how to really enjoy food, preferably crowded round a hot heaving table surrounded by loved ones.

Niño’s Lamesita have recognised this and decided to create the physical incarnation of a good time. Bearing a name that means “little boy little table” in their native tongue, restaurant owners Caitlin Caballero, Maria Navarro, Mark Boros and John Viojan set out to celebrate the generosity and hospitality rooted so deeply in the Filipino culture.

Remarks

Visit Niño’s Lamesita at 104 North Terrace, Adelaide. The restaurant is currently only serving dinner, but the full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu will be rolling out from the first week of November.

“Nino’s started as a little joke,” John says. “I was out at an event and I had been watching the movie Chef for seven days straight beforehand. I was inspired. I knew then I wanted to open a restaurant.”

Within a week, John was already scouting for locations. It helped that Caitlin’s father, a chef with 37 years experience who the team affectionately refer to only as “Chef”, had also been thinking of setting up a restaurant for years – although the thought had mainly sat simmering at the back of his mind. Here was the golden opportunity for the ball to roll.

“Chef is a great teacher, without him we couldn’t have done it,” says John.

All four owners are of proud Filipino heritage, something very prominent across the whole venture.

As Maria explains, “the one thing we always came back to is that we must do Filipino food. Let’s put it on the menu, put it on the map. Let’s educate people, and talk about our history. Let’s tell them where we came from.”

And with the recent interest in Filipino delicacies, the time to showcase the flavours of the Philippines’ motley collection of islands is ripe.

“Chef says it really well: Filipino food is the original fusion. There’s influences from Spain, China, Japan, Malaysia… All mixed in. You get a feel of everything,” says John.

The dining room at Niño’s Lamesita invokes a sense of familial community. The night CityMag visited was the evening of their soft launch, and boy, were they busy. Yet, through the busyness, there was a mutual core of understanding, a casual help-yourself-feel-at-home attitude, that ‘mi casa es su casa’ thing.

The four friends who own it hope to enlist your tastebuds to help get a cultural conversation started. Niño’s is a place that invites you to go on a journey, bringing you back to their hometowns in the Philippines.

The food on offer works on all sensory levels. Influenced by traditional Filipino recipes which are usually heavy, Nino’s take is lighter and fresher on the palate. It’s a twist that many health buffs will appreciate, but there won’t be any compromise on taste either. The tropical hit of the fusion of flavours is certainly not lacking.

And for the team the standout favourite is “the knockout pork knuckle,” of course.

They say you can taste the love that’s been put into the twice-cooked braised and crispy pork hock. Perhaps it’s best served with a bottle of San Miguel, a beer distinctively Filipino, or a jug of Red Horse of which Niño’s Lamesita has exclusive distribution in Adelaide.

Other specialties featured on the menu include the pandesal sliders, adobo wrap and definitely the halo-halo – a dessert completely unique to the Philippines.

Bold artwork hanging over the restaurant’s walls adds to the sense of adventure you feel in its walls.

“We built up everything in the restaurant ourselves,” Maria tells us, “but the one thing we allowed ourselves to splurge on was the art. We knew we had to have gorgeous art.”

They found what they they were looking for when they came across Annie Rudduck of Lucky Duck Design Co. They immediately asked Annie to create Niño’s’ logo, graphics and branding, before they had even signed the lease.

“‘Niño’ rekindled in us memories of our childhood so we wanted to hone in on things we remembered from when we were growing up: family, sharing, and lots of fun. ‘Santo Niño’ which is a religious thing in the Filipino culture also played a part in shaping who we are now,” says Maria.

“‘Lamesita’ evokes an image that you do not need a big grand table and big grand things to be able to share good food and good company. You don’t need much to have a stunning sharing experience and this is very much in the culture of the Filipino people.”

You can see exactly this on the walls and in the open interior layout of the restaurant. Large communal tables scatter the floor with easily movable chairs, designed to make you feel like you belong.

The next step is to bring the ‘kamayan’ method of eating to Adelaide. Niño’s plans to lay out the banana leaves and let you lick your fingers at the table, all part of the Filipino cultural experience of sharing food.

“It’s become an addiction; like a drug,” says John, speaking of how they’ve developed the restaurant. “The family atmosphere is what engulfs Niño’s. We are just so thankful.”

CityMag has an idea that we will be the ones thanking them soon.

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