Fiji’s first gastropub

Picture: SUPPLIED.

One of the positive outcomes from the COVID-19 lockdown has been the exponential growth of food eateries throughout Fiji, especially in the Western Division, where unemployment is driving innovation.

From food trucks, fl ea markets, to artisan providores and new cafes and restaurants, Fiji’s food evolution has accelerated during the global lockdown.

With international tourism all but shut down, hospitality workers have been forced to innovate and adapt to local tourism to survive. Opening a restaurant at this time is one of the bravest feats by any entrepreneur, but one establishment has defied all odds and is leading the way in creating a new dining experience.

Award winning Chef Lance Seeto opened his KANU Restaurant just three days before the March lockdown in Martintar, Nadi, and although initially struggling to keep his business afloat, has emerged from lockdowns and curfews as one of Fiji’s success stories.

“It was one of the scariest moments of my business life.

“Something that no one could ever imagine — a complete shutdown and reset of life as we knew it,” says Chef Seeto.

However, the tourism industry stalwart says COVID has created new opportunities in the supply chain by directly supporting farmers, growers and fishermen to keep the local economy moving, as well as joining forces with artisan makers of breads, cheeses, donuts and cakes to help deliver the KANU experience.

“The lockdown has forced many of us to go into survival mode, and what you now see is innovation; a food revolution is now underway in Fiji.” he said.

According to Chef Seeto, his KANU Restaurant has undergone a number of menu changes since opening as he has had to continually adapt to a changing local market that is itself evolving from week to week. KANU has evolved into an Asian-Fijian fusion gastropub where new kinds of spicy chasers, palusami spring rolls and duck kokoda sit side-by-side pad thai noodles, nasi goreng fried rice and yum cha on the menu.

Seeto says that KANU has discovered a whole new generation of foodies who are looking for more than just curry, barbeque and chop suey. KANU is one of the new, modern eateries that resemble some of the best restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne, Paris or Hong Kong, with a slick clean look, an open kitchen and bar, washrooms decorated with art by local designers, and staff trained to treat all guests like they are VIPs

KANU’s core values of exploration, sustainability, seasonality and preservation drives its food and beverage menus and customer experience like nothing seen in Fiji before. It is Fijian in hospitality and soul, yet you could be forgiven for thinking you were dining somewhere overseas.

If you look closely at the menu you can see glimpses of its Fijian heritage, used subtly to pay homage to local village recipes but reinterpreted with Asian twists.

Chef Seeto brings lovo into his menu with the palusami spring rolls served with a soy, lemon and smoked coconut milk dipping sauce, and his Grandma chicken curry may not be traditional, but its use of soy sauce, Sichuan pepper and ghee are a creamy fusion of local Chinese and Indian fl avours.

According to customers, one of the bestselling dishes that keeps them coming back is a crispy boneless chicken dish called KFC – KANU Fried Chicken.

Chef Seeto says the recipe has its roots in Taiwanese and Japanese cuisine and uses local Halal-certified fresh chicken.

Chinese stir fry dishes are a staple food for Fijians when dining out, but KANU has taken it to a whole new, and healthy, level with the use of more fresh vegetables and unique flavoured sauces calibrated for local tastes including sweet chilli Manchurian, five spiced Mongolian bean sauce and its signature stir fry sauce that Chef Seeto says he has been using in his menus for more than 20 years.

However, it is not just Chinese dishes that you will fi nd at KANU.

Seeto has incorporated exotic South East Asian fl avours into the KANU menu with curries, rice and noodle dishes from Thailand and Indonesia, braised meat dishes from Vietnam and the Philippines, crispy fried duck from Bali, cumin beef from Hunan province in China and seafood dishes inspired from across the silk road countries. And as a gastropub, KANU is not just about food, it’s also about their sexy cocktails, crisp draught beer and non-alcoholic potions curated in collaboration with Taveuni’s Elevate Organics.

“Cocktail appreciation, along with espresso coffee and iced teas, is a relatively new phenomenon in Fiji. “But our love of all things sweet and aromatic means the local market is primed to discover new mixologies,” Chef Seeto adds.

KANU flew an award-winning Melbourne mixologist to Fiji earlier in the year to train its team to understanding how a well-made cocktail is like great food – it should be orgasmic.

Called kocktails with a “k”, you won’t find a Pina Colada, Mango Daiquiri or Love on the Beach on the KANU menu.

What you will find are kocktails called Pornstar, Kama Sutra and Shakalaka Boom Boom; risque names curated for fun and exploration with friends.

KANU’s adults-only drinks are curated with quality local spirits including the new Blue Turtle Gin, local rums and house infusions of local spirits.

And it is this unique food and beverage experience, along with KANU’s surprising affordability and seven-day a week trading, that is enticing customers from as far away as Suva, Ba and the Mamanuca Islands, as well as quarantined hotel guests in Nadi and visiting yachties from Denarau.

Nadi residents as far as Denarau, Votulevu and Naisoso also have the ability to pre-order home delivery to their door at a specific time – perfect for when you don’t want to cook or can’t be bothered getting out of the house.

The word is slowly spreading – Fiji’s food and cocktail scene has evolved, and Lance Seeto’s KANU Restaurant is leading the way.

Book a table to enjoy the KANU experience.

Source: KANU Restaurant

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