It’s not often that we explore food purely through sound. Listening to someone speak about…
Kokomo’s is ambitious.
From its size (it can hold up to 450) to its theme of bringing the tropics to Canberra – this place can’t be categorised as a restaurant, bar or club. It’s a mix of all three. And the recent announcement that the Harrington brothers have managed to secure eighties icon and The Voice Judge Boy George to DJ there on their opening night of 2 June, shows the scope of their ambition.
Since setting up Sage Dining Rooms seven years ago, and Akiba in 2014, Peter and Michael Harrington have been trying to forge new frontiers in Canberra’s dining scene. They want to attract Canberra patrons to their ventures, sure, but they also want something that will stand up against national competition.
And this Pacific-inspired, palm-tree-laden, tropical-print-themed venture in the former Tongue and Groove space is going where nowhere else has dared to go before.
Costing upwards of $4.5 million on fit-out alone, it’s a risk.
But given the public interest in the place, not to mention the fact it has been doing hundreds of covers a night since its soft launch, bodes well.
We have snuck in twice for two taste tests prior to official launch date, and snared a palm-covered banquet on a Thursday night.
David Bowie and music of his era echoes through the staircases and a flurry of staff man the long, curved bar and downstairs floor. Upstairs has its own kitchen and another bar and appears to be a more intimate space with green velvet curved banquets, and seating divided into smaller nooks.
The décor is overwhelmingly…green. Plants and palms are everywhere, including out on two spacious upstairs balconies which provide sweeping views of life on Bunda Street. There are beautiful scallop shell feature tiles, leafy wallpaper, and a tiled downstairs bar that depicts a jungle scene complete with fauna. I reckon when the frost really settles on the city in July, Kokomo’s may well be the next best thing to direct flights to Bali.
The bar is doing a brisk trade in coconut cocktails (they call them Kokonuts…) and has pineapple beer (a collaboration with Bentspoke) on tap – you see where they are taking things don’t you.
Once seated with an outlook onto Genge Street, we get to see the menu. While Akiba interprets modern Asian, Kokomo’s presents Pacific fusion. The menu is divided into starters, main meats and seafood, and accompanying dishes. And like Akiba, the best way to partake of the food is to order several plates to share.
The poké is a must. It comes in two varieties, Fijian cobia and Ahi tuna. Both are beautiful mixes of fresh fish served almost raw. We love the smooth coconut against the strong flesh of the cobia. There are delicious crisp lettuce cups holding lightly battered oysters with a dollop of thousand island dressing and a bowl of Pacific popcorn arrives at the table which is both sweet and salty and consumed before I even have a chance to try and hold space for other dishes.
My husband calls it fool’s gold, but I could happily order just this after work with a glass of wine and consider it a balanced meal. We particularly love the prawn toast, with lime, sweet corn and smoked chilli mayo. This sort of deconstruction and reinvention of a humble favourite is what we have loved at Akiba.
Meanwhile out comes the Rotisserie Huli Huli chicken. It has a beautifully browned skin and is pull-apart soft – sure to be a favourite. The spanner crab linguine with kaffir lime and pangritata divides our table. I love the spicy crabby goodness, but my husband can’t take his fork off the chicken. We share a fried okra which brings in some Indian hints courtesy of cumin, yoghurt and caraway salt.
It’s here that we wonder about such a huge mix of flavours across the menu. It’s the product of traversing across the Pacific Ocean – and beyond – for culinary inspiration, but it may be a step too far for some.
The okra is, however, perfectly seared, with none of its trademark slime. It is something we would order again.
The variety of vegetables on the menu and the way they are treated with such respect and elevated to greatness is testament to the talents of group executive chef Johnon MacDonald and head chef Rhys Lebreux.
Which brings me to my favourite dish – a wood roasted red cabbage with chipotle butter and cheddar. Let’s just say that if the cabbage growers of the world promoted this as their signature dish, the humble brassica would sell out. It is luscious, buttery, smokey goodness – and a veggie! Winning on so many levels.
We can’t leave without trying the key lime pie, which is recommended by our waiter.
It’s in keeping with the colour scheme – a beautiful green slice – zingy with citrus and covered with dollops of crisp meringue on top. At only $8 it’s a steal. Prices are extremely competitive at Kokomo’s – $5 for the popcorn, $12 for the prawn toast, $26 for the chicken and $8 for the okra. Given the calibre of each dish and the lush surroundings in which it is consumed, it is hard not to imagine Kokomo’s will succeed.
Now bring on Boy George.
When: Soft launch underway, official opening June 2
Where: 1 Genge St, Canberra ACT 2601