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New tropical paradise about to bloom in the city

Emma Macdonald

Are you busting to know what will rise out of the rubble and construction site where the old Tongue and Groove used to be?

The biggest hint has been right in front of you all this time.

We can lift the lid on it the newest and most exciting development on Canberra’s food and drink horizon, which, at a cost of $4.5 million, is taking shape under the watchful eyes of the group behind Sage Dining Rooms and Akiba.

Fronted by the Harrington brothers Peter and Michael, the clues to what’s in store are the large 1950’s travel posters printed over hoardings in front of the building site.

In fact, if you are clever enough, and know your Beach Boys songs, you may be able to work out the name for the new venture.

Michael and Peter Harrington

Michael and Peter Harrington

As the posters depict tropical climes, tiki bars and palm trees, they also rattle off place names.

“Aruba, Jamaica, (Oh I wanna take ya), Bermuda, Bahama, (come on pretty mama).”

Is it coming to you?

Those clever boys have called it Kokomo’s. And in fact, a small handful of keen observers have picked it too, according to Peter.

Just like song says: “Off the Florida Keys, there’s a place called Kokomo. That’s where you want to go to get away from it all. Bodies in the sand, tropical drinks melting in your hand…” a laid-back tropical oasis is what you can expect when the doors actually open sometime in April.

Allowing HerCanberra the first sneak peak of the venture, the Harrington boys outline their vision to import “modern Pacific” dining, drink, and decor to the nation’s capital.

Think a menu featuring Pacific flavours, Hawaiian influences, grilled meat, ceviche, tropical fruit and cocktails. Lots of cocktails.

A massive open kitchen will be the point of focus downstairs, with a wood-fired oven and a wood-fired rotisserie recently shipped in from Texas (cue the rotisserie chickens and porchettas).

Diners will be surrounded by vertical gardens and miniature date palms. A massive curved open bar in the centre of the space will feature a mosaic-tiled montage of tropical scenery (with a few Aussie fauna and flora thrown in for good measure) and the old walkway through the former Tongue and Groove will be reclaimed as open-air seating under giant retractable pergolas, encased by more planter boxes and greenery.

The biggest change inside is the new mezzanine floor, where there will be two large balconies allowing people to wine and dine above both Bunda Street and Genge Street.

The balcony space on Bunda Street

The balcony space on Bunda Street

Admittedly, it was still pretty much a building site when HerCanberra snuck in, but the aspect will be unbeatable when the tables and chairs go out there.

Pending the approval of the Liquor Licence, capacity at Kokomo’s will be an incredible 600 people – almost double the former Tongue and Groove. It is an exciting and stressful labour for all involved, with Peter and Michael keeping a constant eye on things from across the road at Akiba (lucky Bunda Street is now a shareway and they can dash between venues with right of way!).

“We were actually wondering about rigging up a flying fox across the road at some stage,” jokes Peter.

For him, the location is gold.

“This is technically, I suppose, the heart of the city centre. We are between Braddon, the Canberra Centre, old Civic and NewActon. So to be able to put people above the street, so they can watch it all spread out below them is really important for us.”

The investment of $4.5 million in the project is part of the group’s desire to bring Canberra’s dining scene to the next level – competing with the bigger cities and breaking new ground. And also, it doesn’t come cheap to import your massive pendant lights from New York or have your artwork and mural designed in the United Kingdom.

The new mezzanine

The new mezzanine

But just like at Akiba, the boys want to keep prices accessible and the feel relaxed.

They want people to pop by for a drink and a shared plate, saying this is the future of the hospitality industry rather than making a booking for a formal dinner.

Certainly, that formula has proved a winner across the road.

Hopefully, the investment pays off. It is hard to imagine that the Pacific feel and tropical overtones won’t be welcomed when April turns to May and the winter chill sets in.

“Just like Akiba has interpreted ‘modern Asian’ in its very unique way, we are doing the same with ‘modern Pacific’. at Kokomo’s. The fit-out and the feel is going to be very different to anything Canberra has had before, and while, yes it will be gorgeous and tropical in the summer, we think people are going to love to escape here in the winter – without having to jump on a plane!”

We will keep you posted!

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism – including a Walkley or two – along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials.

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