The Northern Quarter is currently awash with casual dining and fast cheap eat offerings. Oké Poké, the new restaurant to hit NQ certainly fits in that category. Deriving from the Hawaiian salad Poké, typically served as a starter or appetiser. The word means “to slice, cut or section” and so the dish is fresh ingredients, prepared into small pieces and served in regimented sections for the diner to create their own flavour combinations as they wish, requiring no cutting whilst eating. The Poké craze has taken America by storm and and now Oké Poké has landed, being the first of it’s kind to hit Manchester.
Oké Poké offers fresh, healthy and quick to eat dishes, all prepared right in front of your eyes. The menu is short but sweet. With various different flavour combinations to chose from for each dish – some more traditional, some Oké special creations or there’s the option to build your own. Once you’ve picked your dish, you then get to decide if you want a Poké bowl or a Pokérito (see what they did there!?) Drinks wise, it’s booze free but there is a hearty list of juices, smoothies, protein shakes, and infusion teas to chose from.
The decor is light, bright, with a definite nod to Hawaii with beachy island vibes; distressed tables and a lot of plants. I must say it’s refreshing to go to a place in NQ that hasn’t followed the standard NQ interior design tick box. I only have 2 quibbles with the interiors; there was no music, which would completely change the atmosphere and further stamp the identity of the restaurant. Also my pet hate in ANY venue is buckets of (plastic) cutlery on the table for any sticky mitts to touch. Given they offer take out, I’d have thought cutlery at the point of paying would make more sense and could be kept a lot more hygienically.
After a few seconds deciding (never takes me long) I settled on “Another day in Paradise” in Poké bowl form – which is prawns, rice, red cabbage, pineapple, cucumber, mixed leaves, spring onion, tabiko and tamarind sauce. For drinks I opted for an “Evergreen” smoothie which is kale, cucumber, celery, spinach, apple and lemon.
In the style of Subway, you order and pay at the front and your food is created in front of you. Being the only person in the venue at the time of my visit, I was unsure how things worked so after I paid, having not been instructed otherwise, I waited for my food. After a few minutes, waiting like an awkward lemon, I was asked if I wanted it to take out, if not I was to sit and wait for it to be brought over.
The food arrived faster than the drink, served in a cute little bamboo boat “bowl”. Unfortunately as quaint and fitting for the theme of the restaurant as this was, it’s definitely style over functionality; far from the lovely vibrant ceramic bowls on their website. Trying to eat from it and mix the different elements of the dish together was near impossible. I think I spent most of my time picking food off the table, (not helped by the plastic cutlery) which is less than ideal as a lone diner.
Whilst I couldn’t dispute the freshness of the ingredients used, the quantities were out of balance. The red cabbage unfortunately was of a far larger quantity than anything else on the plate (boat) and with it being such a strong flavour, really did dominate the dish. The pineapple lifted this but there was nowhere near enough of it to act as a counter balance. The rice was unexpectedly hot. I appreciate that would have worked better if I’d opted for a Pokérito. But in a bowl, where there rest of the ingredients are cold, it felt a bit odd to be honest. My main disappointment about the dish was the prawns. Given the menu boasts a lot of other fish and seafood I was expecting some decent juicy prawns. The ones that had found their way into my boat were few and very similar to the ones your Nan drags out the freezer for a party buffet at Christmas. Despite the freshness of all of the ingredients, it was all just a little bit bland. Prawns didn’t taste prawn-y, pineapple didn’t taste pineapple-y and everything else was strong spring onion or red cabbage.
The only saving grace was the tamarind sauce, which I could have drunk by the pint. It was sharp, tangy and really brought some of the food together; but there was nowhere near enough of it. I was told to shout if I wanted more, but trying to catch attention was impossible and I wasn’t going to walk my dinner across the restaurant. Unfortunately, the food didn’t satisfy me at all. If I’m paying just under £8 for a quick bite, I expect it to offer some sort of fulfilment but I just wasn’t sated at all.
The fresh juice, was a fresh juice. Nothing life changing but it did the job and quenched the thirst. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how healthy a juice is, warm fruit juice isn’t a pleasure to drink. A little bit of ice or anything to allow a slight chilling of the drink would have made the world of difference. Unsure why it took longer than my food to arrive, but there we go.
I’d heard good things about Oké Poké and I must say, I wasn’t bowled over (accidental pun). A lot of little tiny tweaks could make this amazing and hit the mark. Especially when so many places across the city centre offer cheap eats, most you know will satisfy you in an instant. (e.g. Beastro lunch for £5). For £7.95 for the food and £3.95 for the juice, it seemed expensive to not be full and I honestly felt a little cheated.
I understand what they’re trying to do and I get it. Maybe I caught them off-guard but 7.00pm on Friday shouldn’t be the time they take their foot of the gas. A lot of people I know have been and loved it, so I’m hoping I am right in my presumptions and I’ll have to give them another go.