Poké bowls may be considered somewhat of a “trend” food at the moment in the same way froyo shops flooded London’s streets a few years back and people went all cray cray over bubble tea (never got that hype FYI) and yes, they are rather photogenic for the old Instagram, BUT they are also actually damn tasty and a healthy yet satisfying dinner option, for me fusing the best elements of sushi, the raw and deliciously marinated fish, with the most amazing of array of vegetables, fruits, pickles and all sorts of other fresh and healthy things.
Poké bowls originally stem from Hawaii (poke meaning “to slice” or “cue crosswise” in Hawaiian) and are traditionally served as starter or main there, made from raw tuna or octopus. Of course, what we consider a poke bowl in Europe isn’t strictly speaking the traditional Hawaiian dish anymore, rather a hybrid culinary creation, much like the California roll when it comes to sushi, which in recent years has emerged from the States and has slowly made its way over here.
In this process poke bowls have been “pimped up” for 21st century tastes, anything from avocados to Siracha mayo to pineapple, added as toppings to the raw fish with Japanese twist, and the traditional rice base, which can make this quite a heavy dish, ditched in favour of alternatives such as hipster and diet friendly kale, udon noodles or fancy black rice.
I tried my first Poké bowl a few years back and instantly loved the freshness of the flavours involved, seldom enjoying a dish so much with not a carb in site (I tend to go for a leaf base). I had some amazing bowls whilst on holiday in Bali, which is no surprise with their access to amazing fish, but London really has not done bad in recent years with their Poké bowl offering.
I’m not going to lie I’ve had some horrendously overpriced Poké bowls in London (mainly via Deliveroo) that left me rather dissatisfied. These were stingy on the fish, stingy on the toppings and lacked any real wow factor while still costing me well over a tenner. Now, I don’t mind paying for quality, but here I felt completely ripped off and it took some time to find a decent spot for a Poké bowl to take away when feeling lazy yet still wanting healthy, wholesome food.
Good thing then that I wondered past Ahi Poké on one of my Sunday walks, located just by Spitafields market (though they have a few London locations), and instantly got drawn in by people eating amazing looking and generously filled bowls on one of their outside tables. Inside it’s kind of like a Subway for Poke bowls and though you can get a suggested bowl I would always say definitely build your own! Even if you go all out and get a big bowl with double fish, you won’t spend a fortune and the servers here are super generous with every topping.
Oh, and Ahi Poké's toppings are quite something, not a plain cucumber in sight but more along the lines of burnt corn, coconut sweet potato, smashed yuzu avocado and all the fancy sauces your heart could desire, from sweet ponzu (one of my favourites) to Korean BBQ to Sirachi mayo. I also love that you are able to pick your base which is great depending on how hungry you feel – I usual go for Kale but on a few hungover occasions had some yummy udon noodles for some much-needed carb goodness. The staff are super friendly and helpful with suggestions of what goes best into your bowl in terms of fish / sauce combos and though not the cheapest takeaway option, it’s no Subway footlong after all, for me Ahi Poké is as good as fast food can be-, guilt free, yummy, imaginative AND not stingy when it comes to portions!
Of course as the amateur chef that I am, I was also intrigued to see if I could recreate a Poke bowl at home, I mean I knew I was not going to be able to dish up as big of an array of fancy toppings as Ahi Poké, not going to be fermenting my own kimchi cucumbers quite yet, but with a Saturday afternoon spare to go to a Korean supermarket near me (FYI there is a great one close to Angel tube called OSEYO) I thought it was worth a try, especially after I found a super easy recipe online.
Full transparency here, it probably ended up costing me more making this bowl than buying two big ones at Ahi, I had to get random ingredients like rice wine vinegar and tuna isn’t exactly cheap even from Sainsbury’s, but I did get a huge sense of satisfaction from the beautiful bowl I managed to cobble together in the end and I have to say it was super delicious! Now that I have the pantry staples, I will for sure make this again and try it with different toppings, the world really is your oyster here, especially as this is the perfect summer dish. Whether bought or homemade I am pretty glad this little dish has made the culinary journey all the way over here from Hawaii and I hope you will give them a go too.
Below my poke bowl recipe – let me know if you end up making it!
AHI TUNA POKE BOWL RECIPE WITH PONZU SAUCE
WHAT YOU NEED
This isn’t about exact quantities, freestyle your bowl though I would say one fillet of fish per person works perfectly.
FOR THE BOWL
Tuna fillet, diced
Mixed leafs (you can have udon noodles or rice if you want something a little more substantial
Jalapeno chillis, sliced – be careful with this, I added too much at the end, sprinkled on top, and ended up with a burning mouth
Toasted sesame seeds
FOR THE CITRUS PONZU SAUCE (IT’S AMAZING TRUST ME!)
This will make enough for 2-3 portions so adjust accordingly, the sauce is amazing so I used the rests up for other dishes!
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine) or rice vinegar
FOR THE CITRUS PONZU
In a bowl add the soy sauce, orange juice, lime juice and mirin. Whisk well to combine.
FOR THE TUNA
Place the tuna in a medium mixing bowl with the green onions (reserve a little bit of the green onions to sprinkle on top of the bowls at the end).
Add some of the ponzu (to your taste, you can reserve some to pour over the rest of the ingredients). Add sesame seeds.
Mix gently to combine.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.If you let the fish sit for longer time, the citrus in the ponzu will slowly cook the fish.
FOR THE BOWL
Pile it up! Put the mixed leafs in a bowl and top with your desired toppings, edamame, avocado, the lot! My favourite is the sweetness from the pineapple to round it all off then add the chilled tuna. Sprinkle with the sliced chlli and some chopped coriander and enjoy!!
* I was invited by Ahi Poké on one occasion but have bought them independently on many occasions
Finding expertly made, high quality sushi in London is far from easy. On the surface sushi is readily available, there is an Itsu and Abokado at every street corner, and almost every supermarket will sell you something that they coin sushi. Of course, this may in theory be sushi, rice topped with raw fish though that isn’t a given either, but in reality, is as far from the real deal as you can really get.
If you’ve ever seen ‘Jiru Dreams Of Sushi’ you know what I am talking about. Preparing sushi is somewhat of an art, the chefs that master it for decades learning every small detail in the preparation process, spending years learning how to cook the rice and slice the fish in the most masterful of ways. Every piece created is almost like an artwork and not something you get in a cardboard box for £6.99 out of a cooling shelf. I know it is an easy lunch fix but let’s not call that proper sushi but a westernised alternative to a Pret sandwich that has never massively appealed to me.
Of course there is the other side of the scale also available in London, super high end, high class sushi joints that have imported the best of the best sushi chefs from Japan, places where it is pretty hard to not spend a small fortune which means I have really struggled to find the kind of sushi that is still semi affordable but is also authentic with fresh ingredients that make all the difference.
I was therefore more than excited when I was invited down to try Hot Stone in Angel, an unassuming looking Japanese joint specialising in handmade sushi (the charming and highly skilled head chef Padam will prepare it right in front of you if you perch on one of the stools at their wooden bar) and hot stone cooking, more on that later, which simply blew me away not only with the food served but also the incredible attention that is paid to hosting each and every diner.
First things first let’s talk about the location and interiors, I know Angel well, I spent most of my Sundays pottering around the area, and had no idea this utter dining gem was in this part of world. Why? Well it is in a bit of a random location down Chapel market, passed a point where the bet shops and 99p stores begin to appear and where you just wouldn’t expect world class cooking to take place.
That may be a blessing in disguise as Hot Stone will never be overrun by tourists, though I do hope more people will make the trek down here after reading this post, well not exactly a trek being 5 minutes from Angel station but you know what I mean, to discover Hot Stone for themselves. Once we got past our initial doubts on the location we knew authenticity was high on the agenda as we stepped foot inside the restaurant, instantly transported into what felt like a little sushi bar in the heart of Tokyo. Classic minimalist wooden interiors, staff in traditional Japanese dress and faux Cherry trees climbing up the walls- I instantly loved how far away this was from the hipster eating out culture of exposed brick walls and tattooed staff one gets so accustomed to in London.
The staff were incredibly attentive and informative, highlighting chef recommendations and making sure we got a good balance of flavours through our menu choices. The menu is divided into different sections, there is a section dedicated to tataki, very briefly seared fish or meat, which stunned us with an incredible butterfish tataki served with jalapeno sauce and equally amazing seabass tataki with yuzo miso sauce and truffle onion salsa that which tried as part of this section.
There is sashimi, we could not get over how silky and beautifully presented the salmon sashimi with spicy truffle yuzu sauce was, as well as more class sushi maki rolls, hand prepared to order of course, with our favourite being the aptly named ‘crunchy hot stone’ roll- king prawn tempura, teriyaki sauce and crunchy tempura flakes, each dish incredibly well prepared, stunningly presented (works of art on a plate I would go as far as saying) and fresh tasting, leaving us nothing short of complete awe.
We then moved on to their grilled section and sampled an out of this world blackened Miso cod which at £27 was not cheap but a work of culinary art worth paying for, and also tried a very nice grilled aubergine dish with homemade miso sauce, though I do have to say if you don’t eat fish Hot Stone is really not the place for you.
Of course, meat eaters will also have a great time here, especially when it comes to their hot stone offering. For those who don’t know hot stone dishes are cooked by the diner themselves on their table using sizzling, super-heated slabs of granite, with the quality of meat and fish left for you to grill to your heart’s desire being the real star of the show. And with quality I mean Wagyu beef, huge juicy king prawns and the freshest chunks of salmon and tuna you could imagine and which you would never be able to find in a UK supermarket. Here the ingredients did the talking, a few sauces served on the side, with dining suddenly becoming a real spectacle, both in terms of the presentation of food but also the outstanding yet stripped back flavours we were presented with.
Yes, Hot Stone will definitely set you back a little more than a takeout at Itsu but considering the love, labour and attention to detail that has gone into every aspect of Hot Stone, from the cooking execution, to the commitment to authenticity (wasabi is freshly grated in front of you) to the absolutely flawless service, this was an overall dining experience I will not forget in a hurry and have been talking about for days since. If you want to splash out on the best sushi in London skip the Roka’s of the dining scene, head to Hot Stone and experience head chef Padam’s magic for yourself.
*the meal was complimentary but all views are mine and I only post about restaurants I feel you should be trying