Text by Toby Skinner Photography⁄River Thompson
"There was no doubt in our mind. We just knew that poke would be a huge trend.” Jordan Sclare, the executive chef of Black Roe, is explaining the origins of his new restaurant in Mayfair, London, which revolves around a spectacular raw-fish counter and counts poke (pronounced poh-kay) as the star attraction on a menu inspired by Pacific Rim cuisine.
The marinated raw-fish dish, usually tuna seasoned with soy and sesame, served on a bed of rice, has long been ubiquitous in Hawaii – but now it’s going global, and fast. There are scores of poke restaurants in Los Angeles, where it’s a bona-fide phenomenon, and the trend has spread across the US, from Brooklyn to Boulder. Now it’s hit Europe, appearing in a handful of London restaurants, and one in Stockholm, called simply Hawaii Poké.
It should mean something that Sclare and London restaurateur Kurt Zdesar have backed the Hawaiian cuisine. Zdesar is the brains behind Asian-fusion success stories like Hakkasan, Nobu and Chotto Matte, and Sclare was head chef at both Nobu and Chotto Matte. Clearly, the pair are onto something.
“We’d had the idea of a restaurant revolving around a raw-fish counter, and using Asian flavours, before we’d even come across poke,” says Sclare. “It was when we were researching that we came across Pacific Rim cuisine and realised it was exactly what we wanted to do.”
Black Roe’s eight poke dishes, which took Sclare and his team weeks of preparation, include a take on the traditional ahi tuna with roasted sesame soy, along with more adventurous evolutions. There’s a sea bass poke with wasabi salsa, a scallop poke with a sriracha citrus salsa and a signature ahi and yellowtail version with spicy yuzu. All are a riot of textures and fresh flavours.
“Our dishes aren’t about being the most authentic or about impressing Michelin judges,” says Sclare, whose team also cooks dishes like octopus aioli and kalua pork belly on a grill using Hawaiian kiawe wood. “It’s about flavour, and that instant reaction to the food. We do a lot of blind tastings and the rule is that the person should say ‘yes’ within a second of trying the mouthful. If so, it will usually be a success.”
With poke, Sclare knew he was onto a winner. “You’ve got great fresh fish and then a whole world of Asian flavours to play with for the sauces. It’s just a fantastic dish.” You’ll likely be seeing a lot more of
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