It’s easy see why poke restaurants have been one of Australia’s boom food-trends of 2017. They take advantage of what we already love – incredible seafood and unfussy, healthy food – and add fun twists such as sushi burritos and shaved milk ice desserts.
Newstead’s Cheeky Poke Bar, though, takes that idea and makes it a proper night out. Owner Sam Demetriou had been serving a simple kind of poke at his family’s Portside seafood place, Fresh N Wild Seafood, for years. But an interest turned into an obsession after a trip to Hawaii.
Cheeky Poke joins Salt Meats Cheese at the newly opened Haven precinct in Newstead. The sunny space of royal blue walls and bench seating, pale wood and sleek light fixtures beautifully fits this upbeat but sophisticated vibe. “When you have a precious product like good sashimi, you want people to sit down, relax and really enjoy it in a more luxe, comfortable setting,” Demetriou says.
Produce is king here. While bowls get flung around so loosely at other establishments they often turn into a kind of salad, here the elements stay separate – and you pour over your own sauce to stop things getting mushy. The result is a deliciously colourful mosaic of turmeric-coconut rice; proteins such as prawns, raw kingfish or tofu; and seemingly endless fresh add-ons such as enoki mushroom, avocado, pickled ginger and nori.
The menu’s big surprise is the taro crisps, which pack a moreish crunchiness that never feels greasy, heightened by zingy wasabi mayonnaise. Similarly, the nori taco shells feel like a special feat of food engineering. After two months in development, they somehow stay crisp without falling apart like regular hard tacos.
Cheeky Poke’s drinks menu includes a signature beer on tap from Fortitude Brewing; bottled Japanese lagers and cider; and cocktails that keep the fun going – like the Cheeky Collins with a kombucha base, and an Espresso Martini made with miso caramel. There’s also kombucha on tap.