For Pinoy comfort’s sake
Regine Cabato (The Philippine Star) - May 31, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Namnam offers the best of two worlds. Established by The Moment Group, it is the third in a chain of restaurants dedicated to “a good time for good people — every single time.”  Founded by Jon Syjuco, Eliza Antonino and Abba Napa, Namnam opened its doors to customers this January. With a name derived from the word malinamnam, the restaurant is a reimagining of traditional dining for the modern Pinoy.  The concept is a tribute to Antonino’s old restaurant Masas, which ran in the same spot for almost a decade.

Also known as “Comfort Filipino,” Namnam is an adventure both for food explorers and homebodies, reminiscent of lola’s cooking but with a turn toward the unpredictable. But really, how can something so close to home taste so familiar and strange at the same time?

“I’ve been surprised many a time when I am out and order a dish I think is going to be classic and traditional (only to) find out that the restaurant has taken their liberties with interpreting it,” Napa explains. “I love interpretation, but didn’t want our guests at Namnam to be surprised that what they ordered was not exactly what they expected.”

This is why the menu is split cleanly into classics, dishes prepared traditionally, and twists, those “distinct dishes born with slight reckless abandon,” Napa chuckles.

Everything from appetizers to desserts is served in three sizes — small for one person, medium for three, and large for six — an exclusive feature that fits servings to both wallet and stomach size. Ordering a series of small plates allows the diner to experiment tapas-style.

The Copenhagen-inspired scheme can fit 50 seats indoors and 40 in the al fresco area. On our left: grills over a clean brick pattern; the table minimalist Nordic blonde wood. The appetizers are mangga’t bagoong cleanly cut with a bursting flavorful sourness, and crispy, caramelized patis wings. These picks come from both the classic and twisted pulutan lists, accompanying other plates such as the street balls of fish, squid, crab, and lobster and salpicao.

The menu, crafted by chefs Rhey Huergas and Luis de Terry, doesn’t rely on a single default specialty. They have inihaw na bacon, a Filipinized ode to the house-cured bacon of sister business ‘Cue Modern Barbecue; there is also crispy pata tim, a combination of the classic crispy pata and pata tim among others.

“I will rotate through many of (the dishes), but I always find myself returning to the sinigang na short rib with watermelon, the gising gising, and our fried rices,” Napa adds. Sure enough, the sinigang is sour in all the right ways (as only classic sinigang can be), but moderated by the mild sweetness of watermelon. The combination sounds contradictory, but it felt like tasting sinigang for the first time. The lamb curry-kare, a play on curry and the native classic kare-kare, is dowsed soft meat in a spicy stew. We had this with their university fried rice, tapsilog translated to the Asian staple.

Dessert is Mango Icebox Shortcake, a cold comfort that is sincerely, well, comforting. Its classic counterparts are the not-so-dirty ice creams and turon of mango and quesong puti. Then there are the drinks, a spin on Napa’s dream of local shakes in flavors of buko, pandan and ube. Sure enough, the ube sago was childhood sorbetes in a glass, as the mango-pomelo-coco cream sago was a delightful three-in-one fruit mix served in glasses more than worth their price rate. There are other flavors, such as strawberry-kamias and kamias-lemongrass.

True to their name, they comfort — but it doesn’t mean they don’t throw in a surprise. Their dishes are tried and tested, but then made innovative; customary, but experimental. For adventurers, the twists are never too close for comfort; for conservatives, the shore is never too far behind. At Namnam, you could be seeing the world from the inside of your home or finding your home from a far end of the world.

* * *

NamNam is located at the ground floor of Greenbelt 2 in Makati and is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.  Call (02) 625-0515 or 0917-5399661.

ANTONINO AT NAMNAM COMFORT FILIPINO CUE MODERN BARBECUE ELIZA ANTONINO AND ABBA NAPA JON SYJUCO MANGO ICEBOX SHORTCAKE MOMENT GROUP NAMNAM RHEY HUERGAS AND LUIS
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