Dining Review | Lulu's Cafe and Poke | Judith Whitfield

When it comes to experiencing different cultures, food is often the arena where people feel more relaxed stepping out of their comfort zones and trying something new. For the adventurous among us, the King Street precinct, centring on Tower Cinemas, has food opportunities from all across the globe: Napoli Centrale and Una Volta are serving up authentic pizza and pasta; Habesha is there with its offerings from Ethiopia; AsaDon and Susuru are winning over fans with their Japanese delights; and within coo-ee of this area you’ve got the exotic flavours from the Persian Place, hearty German food at Oma’s and tasty Spanish at Bocados. 

The newest cuisine to arrive in Newcastle and join this little corner of the world is Hawaiian, in the form of poke bowls (pronounced poh-kay), at Lulu’s. There are no strict rules about what constitutes a poke bowl, but generally it involves raw fish and salad. In Hawaii, marinated or seasoned fish offcuts, especially tuna, serve as the basis for the meal. Poke have been popular in Sydney for a while, and like most foods trends, they eventually hitch a ride north up the M1 and land in Newcastle, with Lulu’s opening for breakfast and lunch in December 2017. 

And it makes sense to bring it here. The style of food is perfect for hot weather - when you want something fresh, light and wholesome. Beaches, warm summer days, and people out and about – why wouldn’t poke be loved in Newcastle, just as it has been embraced in tropical Hawaii?

I’ve never actually been to Hawaii, but if those shirts at Lowe’s with hibiscus and bright colours are anything to go by, Lulu’s has the decor down pat. The dining space has pink walls with huge green palm fronds painted on them, there are fluorescent pink signs on the walls, and light wooden tables and floors. The space is open and bright with pops of colour. It makes me feel happy. 

These pops extend to the flashes of radiant brilliance in the dishes. Poke bowls are quite possibly the most naturally colourful things I’ve ever eaten. Be prepared to receive big bowls containing all the hues of the rainbow. 

The menu is simple: order one of the set bowls or create your own. Each bowl is based on a bed of rice (white or brown), a protein (tempeh, haloumi, salmon or tuna sashimi, or chicken schnitzel) and a whole lot of beautiful fresh salad options. 

On my fourth visit (but only the third time I’ve eaten there) I enjoy a salmon bowl. In an attempt to eat here earlier in the week the cafe was full by 12.30pm so I’ve come early to make sure I don’t miss out. The large space could definitely benefit from a few more tables, outside too. I’ve been munching away on things for a while before I actually unearth all the ingredients - these bowls are hearty. I find nutty brown rice, crisp lettuce and cucumber, grated beetroot, smashed avocado, mango, edamame, seaweed, shallots and chunks of fresh firm salmon. This is hidden further under perfectly drizzled bitey sriracha mayonnaise. On my first visit I had the tempeh bowl with black rice, roasted pumpkin, spinach, pickled ginger, edamame, avocados and cherry tomatoes. Each bowl has slightly different ingredients which complement the protein focus, giving you a great mixture of textures, flavours and colours. 

The poke bowls are served from 11.30am, but if you come before then you can enjoy a creative breakfast menu that is just as bright and satisfying. There are other bowls – acai, pitaya (dragonfruit) and breakfast bowls; try the freshly flipped blueberry pancakes with dried raspberries, matcha ice-cream and wispy pistachio fairy floss, or tuck into scrambled egg and bacon tacos with zesty toppings to kick-start your day. The coffee is smooth, rich and creamy. 

Aside from the healthy aspect of the menu, Lulu’s is fun, from the music to the novelty value of unearthing and discovering all the hidden elements that combine to create the poke. Both little and big kids should enjoy the experience and you’ll be fulfilled without feeling heavy and sluggish. It’s fresh, clean summer eating at its easiest. 

Quick Bite

  • What: Lulu’s Cafe and Poke. 3-5 Crown Street, Newcastle; 7 days, 7.30am-3pm; 0403 664 450
  • Owners/chef: Nathan and Jacob Pepper, Murray Toland
  • Accessibility: Yes; facilities shared with the Lucky Hotel
  • Take note: Takeaway available
  • Bottom line: Bowls are $19.50; build your own start from $15.50
  • Must try: A poke bowl, obviously.