About two years ago, the poke craze hit our shores, with numerous homegrown brands sprouting up.
Initially, there was skepticism that it might be a passing trend, but it’s been a few years now and the fascination shows no signs of abating.
Poke originates from Hawaii, where it was first devised as a meal fashioned out of fisherman’s cut-offs. This simple dish evolved when it gained traction and popularity in the rest of the United States.
These days, poke bowls can include sauces like ponzu and teriyaki and an ingredient range that can encompass everything from edamame to mangoes, corn, avocado, pineapple and cucumber.
In January this year, Tail & Fin opened in Malaysia, wading sanguinely into what has become a sea of poke restaurants. The main distinguishing feature between Tail & Fin and its competitors is that this eatery originates in the US.
“Poke is trending and the brand is known in Las Vegas – it is famous there. So since it is a trend and people are more health-conscious, we believe it’s a brand that can work in Malaysia, plus it has strong backing from the chef and the US team. So we thought we would bring it down to Malaysia,” says Nelson How, the restaurant’s marketing manager.
In the US, the eatery was founded in Las Vegas by chef Karu Wedhas, a former Nobu executive chef who once worked in Nobu Las Vegas and Nobu Beijing. Wedhas came up with a slew of poke meals and accompanying sauces like ponzu sauce, wasabi aioli, teriyaki and unagi sauce, all of which are available at the Malaysian outlet.
At the moment, all the poke bowls at Tail & Fin are pre-determined, so you’ll have to order what’s on the menu, although the eatery does plan to introduce build-your-own poke bowls in the next few months.
To begin your poke venture, try the It’s Stupid Good (RM24.90) a best-seller in the US that consists of tuna, tempura flakes, onions, tomatoes and Romaine lettuce with a yuzu miso sauce. It’s an incredibly fresh, zesty offering that is likely to find fans in health freaks (although the onions are a tad overwhelming here).
Then there is the Angry Bird (RM18.90) which features grilled chicken, Romaine lettuce, red onions, jalapenos and cornflakes with teriyaki sauce and chilli garlic aioli. This is an instantly appealing bowl, where the chicken is grilled beautifully and all the ingredients coalesce harmoniously with the umami flavours of the teriyaki sauce.
If you’re after a slightly different eating experience, you could opt to pimp your poke by eating it in a hollowed out pineapple, at RM2 more. You could, for instance, try the Omega Poke (RM20.90) in the pineapple.
The meal is made up of salmon, surimi crab, tomatoes, red onion and toasted multigrain with Japanese citrus and honey sesame aioli. The poke meal itself is really good, as the salmon and surimi crab offer tender, fluffy qualities while the honey sesame aioli adds a creamy, sweet touch. The only real problem here is the pineapple, which really doesn’t add anything beyond aesthetic appeal. In fact, you might find it an uphill battle trying to keep food from flying out of the fruit and landing on your lap/table.
Perhaps the most interesting offerings at the eatery are the poke burritos and poke tacos (you can choose any poke meal and convert it into a burrito or taco). Both are fashioned out of seaweed wraps, with the burrito offering a heartier meal and the taco the better option for those looking for something lighter.
The flaming tuna burrito (RM22.50) for example is composed of spicy tuna, surimi crab, seaweed salad, jalapeno and furikake with umami sweet soy. Because everything is packed tightly into the burrito, the flavours seem more concentrated somehow, so you’ll find the pronounced taste of the spicy tuna mingling amiably with the sweet soy in each oh-so-satisfying mouthful.
If you’re after even smaller flavour wallops, try the sushi tacos (RM28.90 for 4 pieces). This gives you the opportunity to sample bite-sized portions of any poke bowl of your choice.
Moving forward, there are plans to open more Tail & Fin outlets in Malaysia.
“This year, we are looking at opening six outlets. Eventually we will do more kiosks and maybe even have food trucks too,” says How.