I am compelled. And not by the power of Christ. Instead, I am compelled by every set of hunched shoulders I’ve seen in the street. Compelled by every new case of carpal tunnel syndrome in the offing. Compelled to pay homage to a game I will never play, to creatures I will never personally encounter. Consider this my indulgence paid to Niantic. Because going to eat pokē is about as close as I’ll get to Pokémon Go.
Just like its virtual friends, pokē has its own zealous cult, though its members have better tans and fervently kneel at the altar of chopped raw fish rather than that of Mewtwo and Dragonite. Tombo, Soho’s first pokē bar, has set up shop, ready to welcome gamers and laymen alike into its fishy brood.
In case you’ve been firmly planted on the shores of the Atlantic, avoiding a life of pukka shells and gnarly waves, pokē is a Hawaiian raw fish salad – think undone sushi, in a bowl – with its name meaning ‘to slice or cut’. While it is traditionally made with aku, an oily tuna, or he’e, fresh octopus, it seems that these days the world is its…oyster? Pokē now has more personalities than Britney Spears in 2007.
After nurturing their firstborn in South Ken to steady adolescence, the team behind Tombo (in a move that’s very George Foreman’s kids the sister restaurants share a name) decided to trim the fat from the broadly Japanese fare of their first venture. But while this menu is leaner than their first, it is by no means Spartan: six signature pokē bowls, a build-your-own board and an army of matcha desserts.
Stepping up to the powder blue entrance on D’Arblay Street, you can tell this could quite easily become one of those places that swell with popularity, heaving in the throes of summertime. It’s bright and airy and cutesy. Willowy girls with shiny hair double-take and return to take a gander at artfully composed bowls and electric green sweets. The whole thing is terribly photogenic.
Though you may cower in fear when presented with the seemingly infinite possibilities presented by the DIY approach, and it’s easy to assume that the combinations the chefs orchestrate will far outstrip anything you could dream up, I urge you to forgo any of the pre-designed pokē bowls.
After all, who knows better what delights your taste buds than you?
Each of the signature bowls, which come in small or regular sizes, can be ordered with black and white rice or courgette noodles. Though the rice didn’t stick in the lovely, glutinous way that sushi rice should (nor was there a grain of black rice in sight), I think it is a far more suitable companion for the fish than the noodles, providing some heft and balancing the richness rather than adding to it. That being said, the courgette noodles are slender and pleasantly slippery; perhaps a better foil for something milder, like the tofu or the teriyaki chicken.
The salmon avo lux (rest assured, I too shuddered at that abbreviation) is likely to appeal to those reaching for a glass of White Girl Rosé. As with those happily guzzling their way through 2016’s so-called ‘summer of rosé’, this bowl, whilst lacking depth, is pretty and inoffensive.
For those too squeamish to eat raw fish – they do still exist, it seems – the spicy prawn mayo is a safe bet. Drowning in Sriracha mayonnaise, it is a sweet and easy option. A gentle shake of fiery shichimi and a dusting of crunchy fried shallots help elevate the dish beyond high street sushi status, though a quick dip in a tempura batter would improve the shrimp tenfold. To whichever bowl you choose, the vibrant emerald Japanese pickles are a more than welcome addition, adding brightness and punch, as well as a bit of texture.
Unveil your second stomach or skip right ahead to dessert, as Tombo’s verdant matcha menu is superb. The monaka sandwiches a tower of matcha soft-serve between two delicate and shatteringly crisp mochi wafers. A slick of earthy, fruity adzuki bean paste on the side is a lovely surprise. The matcha brownie is rich and unctuous without being too sweet – you could certainly eat more than one. If, however, you simply cannot bear the thought of another bite, take home a cellophane sachet of delicately floral sakura mochi. While it may not be a Lure just yet, Tombo is angling to become as much a hotspot as any top notch Pokémon training gym; swap your Pokeballs for pokē bowls and get down there.
Everyday 11:30am – 8:30pm