The vibe at Kokomo's us right up my alley. I had a wonderful afternoon there one hot summer day. A few girlfriends, a couple of cocktails, the sun on our backs as we sat at a high table out the front, picking at a selection of little plates. It wasn't too hard to feel, as they want you to do, like we had escaped to some tropical resort somewhere, and we weren't in the heart of Civic.
I like it too, that the staff bounce about in gawdy flowery shirts, indeed it wouldn't have surprised me if the waiter who seated us had thrown in a cartwheel as she directed us to the table, such was her enthusiasm.
There's music blaring, young people at the bar, the booths which line the window are full of groups, Kokomo's is doing what it does well.
But perhaps tonight I'm feeling old and staid. No afternoon sun, just the chill of a dark Canberra night, I feel somewhat out of place, like I'm dining in a nightclub. Everyone here is so young and vibrant, this isn't the right place for someone like me.
The mood changes however once they start bringing out the food. There's been a menu change in recent weeks, there's an Asian slant, coconut, chilli, lime, everything looks delicious. So much so that we can't decide and go the Feed Me menu, a bit of a cop out, but at $49pp for a selection of eight of the most popular dishes we're excited about the element of surprise.
First up is a kingfish ceviche ($14 on the stand alone menu, where nothing is more than $17), delicate cubes of pink fish, with coconut and lime, served with cassava crackers. The crackers are a hit, and the ceviche tastes better when it's scooped up and eaten with them.
Two long spring rolls come out next ($12 for two), a golden pastry full of tiger prawn and vegetables. There's a dipping sauce made of native plum, sweet and sour at the same time, I'd never contemplated such a thing, always looking towards the traditional nuoc cham, but I'm sold.
The simply named beef bun ($14 for two) joins the line-up and is a highlight of the night. Soft little round balls of bao-like bread, bursting at the seams full of yellow curry beef topped with spicy peanuts. There's a depth of flavour to the curry despite the size of the serve, it would be nice to have a bowl of it, with some rice, and a fork. But that's not what we're doing here. Cutlery is optional for a lot of the menu.
Indeed the fried chicken in the mini banh mi ($14 for two) is finger-licking good. Crisp, with a little chilli kick that's softened by green papaya and coriander and basil. They're a great size, two bites, the bread golden and soft.
A lemon kale salad with rounds of radish, herbs and a black garlic vinaigrette ($12) is a nice half way point. There's bean sprouts and sesame seeds, it's zesty and light and makes me rethink kale.
The salad is off the vegan side of the menu which is worth looking at too. Sweet potato spring rolls, Vietnamese mushroom pancakes, crispy five-spiced silken tofu with watermelon. You could incorporate any of these into the 5 dishes for lunch ($25pp) and dinner (35pp) and be happy.
The second half of the night involves larger dishes, a crispy barramundi with nashi pear salad, cashews and a nam jim dressing ($17) and a som tum spiced barbecue pork with tamarind, kaffir lime and touches of chilli ($16) and a smokey grilled eggplant with caramelised garlic and Thai basil ($12).
I'm a little disappointed the barramundi is lightly battered, the fish is tender and flavourful, but I like the sensation of crispy fish skin, and the salad here, slivers of pear, cucumber and sprouts, tossed in the nam jim, is lost a little.
The pork is served in fine slices, the edges caramelised, the meat pink and tender, there's a spicy kick which is offset by the salad of herbs and sprouts.
At this point we have to contemplate dessert. There are only three options, key lime pie ($8), an icecream sandwich ($8) and a coconut mango waffle cone ($6).
Like a couple of big kids we order the waffle cones, they come standing up in a little wooden box. Dipped in freeze-dried cherries, which gives a popping-candy kind of mouth sensation, off set by a creamy icecream mix of the coconut and mango.
Licking an icecream cone is a weird way to end a night I decide, but a fun way too. It's the perfect final antidote to my previously dour mood.
Kokomo's is a fun place. The vibe, the food, the staff. It won't suit every occasion, but then dining out doesn't have to be so serious all the time.
Address: 1 Genge St, City.
Owners: Kokomo's Hospitality Group
Chefs: Johnon MacDonald, executive group chef; Struan Preston, head chef Kokomos
Hours: Open seven days: bar food menu from 11.30am-11pm; full lunch menu 11.30am-3pm; full dinner menu from 5.30-10pm; Tiki Bar 5pm-late Wednesday to Saturday.
Wheelchair access: To certain parts.
Vegetarian: Good options and a full vegan menu too.
Noise: Noisy, but that's part of it.