Nickie’s is quite simply Broadway’s Thai icon. Sitting pretty on one of New Market’s busiest thoroughfares for almost a decade now, it’s turned out to be the place to go if you’re after an authentic experience in Thai cuisine in Auckland. It’s definitely not the oldest Thai restaurant in the city but in the space of a decade it certainly has grown to become among the most popular ones today.

Passionately run with great personal involvement by the husband-wife team of Nickie and Naresh Singchareonchai, the restaurant has built up a hugely loyal clientele that has grown over the years by sheer word of mouth, according to Naresh, who started the restaurant just months after he migrated to New Zealand from Bangkok.

“Nothing can beat word of mouth when it comes to building reputations,” he says. “We’ve continuously concentrated on quality and the authenticity of Thailand’s versatile and varied cuisine and paid close attention to what our clients have to say – I think that approach has served us well.”

Converting what was then a dark, damp and run down Chinese restaurant into the happy, bustling place it is today has not been an easy task, says Naresh. Starting out life in a new country, settling down a young and growing family and working long hours both in the kitchen and looking after customers was hard work and weighed him down for years. But in the end it has paid rich dividends: “there is no greater reward than to see off a satisfied customer at the end of his or her meal,” he says.

Naresh credits his wife Nickie’s culinary skills in building the restaurant’s well-loved menu. “She is a great cook herself and has a knack for packaging flavour, taste and presentation to deliver a memorable experience to the diner’s palate,” he says.

Born and raised in Thailand, both Naresh and Nickie are ethnic Indians who trace their ancestry to the northern Indian state of Punjab. Naresh is as much at home speaking Punjabi as he is with Thai and English.

Nickie spent long weeks experimenting with ingredients and sauces to come up with the right mix that would tickle the Kiwi palate. “The real trick is to balance the different flavours of the range of spices, sauces and oils,” he says. But they have never compromised Thai authenticity – and that was a veritable challenge.

Naresh has built a personal rapport with most diners and many of his loyal clientele simply leave it to him to suggest the fare for them since he knows and remembers their preferences so well. “Many of my clients just leave the selection to me,” he says. “And we know how to tweak a particular dish to their specific liking.”

In between managing the different chores of the busy restaurant and communicating with his dedicated kitchen staff, Naresh finds enough time to chat up with his diners and you can see his friendly visage going around the tables holding brief conversations on everything from the weather and current affairs to the intricacies of how the meal that the diner is tucking into was prepared.

We’ve been longtime diners at Nickies and I am one of those who leave it to Naresh to suggest the fare. After a brief conversation as usual, this time around he suggested a smoked snapper in a spicy chilli-ginger-garlic based Thai sauce for me and a specially concocted dish for my vegetarian companion based on tofu, fried rice and vegetables cooked in some fine Thai sauces, which he got Som Sak, his expert chef from Thailand, to put together after consulting my friend.

The flavour, as usual, was exquisite and very different from what I have essayed elsewhere. And as we tucked into our meal, Naresh regaled us with anecdotes of the many celebrities he has had the pleasure of serving as well as telling us about the finer aspects of Thai cuisine, even giving me some tips on the best way to debone the snapper on the platter.

Nickie’s has a well stocked bar and a substantial menu with soups, starters, mains, desserts and beverages. The tangy soups with dominant lime-and-lemon grass notes are an excellent way to set the pace for the meal ahead.

The starters are all delectable but my personal favourite and one that I can’t tire of recommending is the Tulip Chicken, chef Som Sak’s signature offering: tangy, spicy – and oh so crunchy.

The most popular mains at Nickie’s are Chicken cashew nut, the all time Thai favourite Pad Thai and its own innovation curiously named Nuclear Beef, which is Sirloin steak marinated and cooked in some “very special Thai sauces,” according to Naresh. “Diners just love it.”
Equally popular on the seafood menu is Three Buddies – a sizzling platter with king prawn, scallop and squid in Nickie’s specially made sauces. “That’s what makes us different – the sauces. We make them all here with the best Thai ingredients. Their proportion in these concoctions is what does the trick – and that’s our speciality,” he says.

By far the most ordered dessert is Black Lava, the chocolate fudge cake with a special Nickie’s touch. Of course there are lots of other options as well.

Nickie’s has a cover of 100 and is open all week (Monday to Friday both for lunch and dinner and only dinner on Saturdays and Sundays). Spread on two levels it’s as great a place for group lunches as it is for a quiet repast with family and friends.