The capital’s first poké outlet serves up fresh seafood bowls at a bargain, keeping things simple and scrumptious. Writing by Joanna Mayhew. Photography by Lucas Veuve.
With one primary dish on offer, Poki Poke has put all its eggs in one basket. Luckily, the basket – or, in this case, bamboo bowl – appears to deliver, with the straightforward and healthy dish packing a serious punch of flavours.
At the small outlet, poké – a variation of raw fish salad – takes centre stage, served atop rice and customised to order with a smorgasbord of fixins.
Opened last October, Poki Poke’s laid-back vibe jibes well with its signature dish’s home turf: Hawaii.
While influenced strongly by Japan, the offering is distinctly Americanised, reminiscent of evolutions such as TexMex or the California roll. “It’s very difficult to categorise,” says restaurant director Takao Nishikawa.
Traditionally, the dish refers to chunks of tuna served with soy sauce and wasabi, but poké – as opposed to delicately sliced sashimi – can refer to anything cut into chunks and marinated like ceviche.
“I felt really impacted,” says Nishikawa of the first time he tried the dish in California. “I [immediately] wanted to open [a] poké [restaurant] in Southeast Asia.”
The eatery calls its evolved version of poké “sushi in a bowl”, and customers follow simple steps to select their rice, fish, toppings and sauce of choice. “Poké is very easy to cook,” says Nishikawa, adding the most important aspect is the freshness of the fish.
Poki Poke sources salmon from Norway, tuna from Thailand and shrimp and squid locally, changing out the fish and seafood twice daily to maintain quality.
And while traditional sushi is primarily paired with soy sauce, poké eaters have more fun, with condiments taking in wasabi, hot chilli mayonnaise, sesame soy and ponzu, a Japanese vinegar and soy sauce.
One colourful poké bowl includes white rice with salmon, shrimp and squid, topped with onion, cucumber and masago egg, and coated in sesame soy sauce.
The strong-flavoured dish had a nice array of textures, with crunchy veggies and seaweed strips offsetting the rich salmon. Another variation, using brown rice, saw the same seafood combination contrasted with strong chillies and citrus-coated avocado salad, with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a welcome dab of wasabi.
Poki Poke’s understated and quirky space has a handful of low wooden tables with even lower stools, seating just 20 people inside. Though small, the restaurant, with a vaulted ceiling, bowl pendant lights and large potted plants, makes for a cosy escape. And while there are no frills or whistles, it has a growing fan base among Westerners, with Nishikawa saying young Khmers too are gradually trying the dish.
The simple-menu eatery also boasts a welcome and surprisingly diverse array of beers, serving Chimay, Duvel, Hoegaarden, Budweiser, Heineken and Corona. And with large poké bowls priced at just $3.50, Poki Poke, can claim – at least while it still has a monopoly – being one of the best deals in town.