Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Hawaiian shirts, you wander into a food market in London and have to don your sunglasses to shield from the multicoloured glare. Get closer, and you’ll spot the food they’re serving is brighter than their shirts – in fact, it’s glorious, almost as if it was made to be posted on instagram.
Pokē has arrived. It’s pronounced ‘poh-kay’, translates as ‘to cut’ and is to Hawaii what ceviche is to Latin America and sushi is to San Francisco (or, indeed, Tokyo). It’s a combination of marinated raw fish on a base of black rice, dressed with sharp and tangy shoyu dressings and pickles. Salty soy, refreshing ginger, umame mushrooms and meaty fish – it’s as colourful and flavoursome as it sounds.
Of course, soy, mushroom, garlic and ginger aren’t exactly the easiest thing to match with wine, at least on paper, but we were very keen to have a go.
First, though, we needed Pokē. And for that, we needed some very talented people. Luckily, we knew some. Guy Jackson and Celia Farrar are the minds (and hands) behind Eat Poke London, a pop-up kitchen appearing with Kerb all over London. They’re also branching out into events and corporate hospitality, bringing colourful and flavoursome healthy cuisine wherever they go.
We invited them to come join us in Majestic House for an afternoon – and an experiment. They bring the food, we bring the wine, and we’d see what flavours worked. In short, our favourite kind of pastime.
Having never tried Pokē before, we used sushi as our reference point, and then thought thai. That meant we needed to go aromatic. Aussie Riesling, with its pungent lime and beeswax and bracing acidity. New Zealand Gruner Veltliner – white pepper, capsicum and apple. Off-dry Pinot Gris with texture to help wrap around some of the more spicy flavours in the food.
We lined up 5 wines, while Guy and Celia set up three different Pokē pots. The game was on.
While Guy gave us an introduction to Pokē, Celia finished prepping the three pots. First up, a salmon Pokē with pickles and spicy yuzu-mayo, then a vegetarian version with tofu, nuts and shiitake mushrooms, finally an ahi tuna Pokē with delicious shoyu dressing.
And so we tasted. And we sipped. And then we tried the next wine, tasted, sipped, and the next, and the next.
Refreshment ensued. Some wines brought out specific flavours, others danced merrily with all the dishes, others were good – if not outstanding – but delightfully, nothing clashed. One thing became very clear: This was a lot of fun to do.
There was a clear winner from our little experiment, but we’re going to run these down in reverse order, so if you want to Poke to the chase, just scroll on down. Although I’ve ranked them, it was really very close, with everyone finding something they liked.
- Best With: Tofu and Shiitake Pokē
- Thoughts: I really wanted this to work better, but it lacked a bit of acidity and felt a little flabby. Just a bit too much on the sweet side and while it didn’t do badly, it was outdone by the other wines.
- Best With: Shiitake mushrooms, Avocado
- Thoughts: This is quite an unusual wine with really strong vegetal aromatics meshed with beautiful mango and peach. It worked brilliantly, much to my surprise, with tender slices of Avocado and stood up really well to the umami shoyu dressings.
- Best With: A pickled nut.
- Thoughts: The logic behind Pinot Gris, and the reason we had two in the line-up, was simple. Off-dry styles have the richness to cope with spicier and strong aromatic flavours. The Kumeu River Pinot Gris did what I’d hoped the Schlumberger would, and did it better with a seam of fresh acid that really helped pick up the sharper flavours. The big surprise was when we ate a pickled nut with the Pinot Gris – woah. Huge flavour explosion of awesome.
- Best With: Tuna Pokē and Salmon Pokē
- Thoughts: Searingly fresh with pronounced lime notes – this was another good all-rounder, but utterly sang out with the crisp pickled veg and soy flavours. Did a right dance with the meaty fish chunks too. Really solid choice.
- Best With: Everything
- Thoughts: This was the all-round winner, but only just – the Riesling nearly cinched it. Went well with everything without getting lost, had plenty of flavour and character and made every mouthful of Pokē taste better.
Of course, I had to throw in a wildcard – a gloriously hoppy and fruity King of Hops Session IPA. After a few sips, we decided it made a great palate cleanser between nibbles on Pokē.
There’s a really important take-away from this tasting – and that’s the pure delight in lining up a bunch of wines with food dishes and tasting them all. We discovered flavours that worked, some that didn’t, and stumbled upon some pairings that sounded the hallelujah chorus on our tongues – like Kumeu River Pinot Gris and pickled macademia nut.
So, what wine should you drink with Pokē? Aromatic whites – Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Pinot Gris, especially from New Zealand and Australia. But as we found, the fun is in the tasting, so don’t be afraid to pick a bottle or two and taste for yourself.