Suki opened in South Bank just a couple of weeks ago, after some social media murmuring and teasers of what was to come. Poke bowls emerged as a food trend in the US last year, and after seeing pictures of them and reading about them for months, their final arrival here actually feels like something already behind the times. Still, it is better late than never, right?
Located on Grey Street not too far from the cinema block, Suki gets a bit of foot traffic from passersby. The bright colour-changing lighted sign framing the entrance certainly catches attention. The decor gives it a tropical coastal feel, harking back to the Hawaiian origins of the dish. The turquoise blue and tie-dye swirls of pastel pink are repeated through the decor, and are quite a contrast to the more minimalist Nordic styling that most new places seem to have adopted. There are, however, little plants in concrete pots at tables, and concrete brickwork at the service counter, just to give it a bit of a modern urban touch.
As it is set up for fast food-style casual dining, it is purely counter service. There aren’t any explanatory leaflets anywhere, but in essence, it works similarly to Subway or Zambrero. Lighted screens above the service counter present the list of ingredients available. You begin by choosing to have either a poke bowl, of which you can have a regular or large size bowl, or a sushi burrito. You then pick a base of different varieties of rice, green leaves for the carbohydrate-avoidant, or quinoa and kale for the hipsters.
Next follows a choice of protein to have with it, either raw sashimi-style fish, hot chicken, beef, or prawn, or tofu (cold). You pick a sauce to dress your dish, from mainly Japanese flavour options like ponzu sauce, Togarashi mayo, or chilli oil. There are then an assortment of salad components you can choose to add or omit, again much like the salad step of a Subway sandwich construction. The very last additions you get to make are toppings like pickled ginger or pickled daikon. Some, like avocado or tobiko (those tiny orange eggs) cost a dollar extra.
In practice, it was quite an efficient process. We both chose to have poke bowls in the large size. The sushi burritos seemed like a larger version of your standard nori roll, just not sliced. The warmed rice we chose for the base (one white rice, one black rice) was kept separate from the other cool ingredients until the final step. This is wise, as it keeps the other cool ingredients from wilting or being cooked when they shouldn’t.
While we had some initial misgivings about how much to trust in raw fish kept in a bain-marie layout being doled out by non-sushi chefs, we decided to run with it, and hoped that at least given the newness and still fresh enthusiasm, hygiene standards would be kept high. Also, while the hot options of katsu chicken and sticky soy and ginger beef might have been alright, they seemed too much like what you would be able to get at any other casual Japanese eatery, and not really what we went there for. The sauces we selected were drizzled over the fish.
When it came to the salad fillings, we, of course, had just about everything. These were then mixed with the fish, and that melange then tipped over the rice, making a colourful mound. It would have been better if the staff had mixed the fish and salad bits together properly though, as we later found the components to be quite unevenly distributed, with most of the fish and sauce on one side, and plenty of the salad bits without dressing in other parts.
After paying, we brought our bowls back to available tables. There are rows of polymer-topped tables and chairs, both at standard height and bar height, set up for communal style seating rather than individual settings. There are, also, a few seats that are set up to look like swing seats, but actually fixed to the ground, and with only a small table attached to them. While they look pretty, they aren’t really practical, as if you are at either end, you don’t have a flat surface to rest your dish on (apart from the ground). Perhaps as a testament to the permeation of different culture, the only utensils provided are disposable chopsticks. They may have alternatives available if you ask, but they were all that were apparent. Indie pop music was playing a little loudly, so it wasn’t quite tranquil and calm despite the beachy look.
One poke bowl had black rice, kingfish, and a mix of ponzu sauce and wasabi mayo, along with the other salad fillings. The black rice was appropriately cooked so that it wasn’t either too dry or gluggy, and as it took up the sauces put on the fish that sank to the bottom, it was rather tasty. The kingfish had that characteristic faintly funky sweet flavour, without being fishy. There was also a good amount of the fish in the bowl, rather than being just a few stingy pieces. While the irregular sizes of the pieces were a reminder that this was no high-end sashimi serving setup, that was a relatively minor detail that only real aficionados would take issue with. The flavour and heat of wasabi weren’t discernible in the mix.
The other poke bowl had white rice, salmon, and a mix of their Suki sauce and mayo. The rice was again cooked appropriately. The salmon had a good, firm mouthfeel. Again, some purists might say that the chunks of fish were at times too thick. Others, however, might say that more is better.. The Suki sauce was very sesame seedy, like a goma dressing. One of the things we found with both bowls was that the ingredients that made up the salad fillings, while not bad, threw us a bit. While most of the proteins and sauces were in keeping with Japanese flavours, things like capsicum, orange, and red onion certainly were not. There, perhaps, is where the wisdom of not having everything just because you can comes in.
Suki’s poke bowls are something different in Brisbane. What you get, for the price, is pretty good. We haven’t notably suffered any ill consequences from their raw fish yet.. You can assemble a quite tasty bowl, if you pick the right ingredients (or leave out the right ones). It’s cheaper than most chirashi bowls around too.
Price point: $12.95 for a regular size poke bowl, $14.95 for a large. Sushi burritos $12.95.
Value: Good. Will likely visit again.
Address: 182 Grey Street, South Bank
Phone: None yet