I’ve always wanted to hate poke bowls, if for no other reason than their popularity on Instagram. But after indulging in some fine poke at the Hyde Park Southern Sun’s glorious rooftop Island Bar last week, I find myself wholly unable to. Actually I’m wondering why they aren’t a bigger hit in Joburg (really, their presence is far bigger on social media than in real life).
As any self-respecting ‘hip’ eater knows, Poke is a Japanese influenced Hawaiian creation, similar in spirit to the Chirashi or ‘scattered’ sushi bowl of Japan, but with chopped raw fish originally being the defining element (poke literally means to slice). Traditionally, the dish didn’t have to feature rice or lots of raw and pickled vegetable items, but current renditions tend to. At its best, it’s refreshing and light, and all the things that sushi was before people started adding mayonnaise. It even feels, dare I say, ‘clean’.
The hotel’s executive chef Chef Grant van der Riet offers a short menu of three different pokes – Kimchi Tuna, Pickled Salmon, and the Vegetarian. We tried all three.
Each one was toothsome technicolour freshness, but while I am far from vegetarian, I do wish that option felt a bit less like the same bowl without the fish. A nice generous heap of pickled enoki mushrooms for example, would have made the bowl feel as ‘worth-it’ as the raw fish options. A few strands of kanpyo (dried and reconstituted gourd-skin) wasn’t quite enough.
The one other thing I’d change is the compulsory champagne and poke pairing for two which is the only way they’re serving the it right now. While it’s extraordinary value – you get a bottle of Veuve and two bowls for R1 000 for two – the mandatory alcohol turns what could be a frequent convenient bite into a big deal. It means anyone on their own, or teetotalling, or tending not to be wealthy, is excluded.
Let’s hope their poke relaxes into an everyday chilled option after the ‘special’, because sitting on the lofty terrace, feeling a little smug as you watch others battle in traffic below, and scooping up a bowl of healthy deliciousness, is definitely one of the city’s more pleasant eating-out options.
THOUGHTS ON FISH
I do hope, if poke bowls hang around, that more chefs will think out of the box about the fish they’re using.
Salmon is still classified, by most eating establishments, as being Norwegian or Scottish or Chilean, but that information tells us very little. What’s relevant is how that fish is farmed (and 100% of what we’re eating here is farmed). The majority of salmon aquaculture is an environmental disaster. Even sustainably farmed is often the thin end of the wedge, but that’s the only way to go if we eat salmon at all.
Likewise, knowing the tuna is yellowfin doesn’t tell us much. What matters hugely is whether the catch method is pelagic long-line (considerable by-catch of turtles, marine birds, other fish) or pole caught (almost no by-catch). Poke bowls might be cool, but eating the wrong fish is not. Go to WWF Sassi for more info.