By now, Vancouverites have probably had their first taste of poke—a traditional Hawaiian dish comprised of raw fish cubes.
Poke eateries have been popping up all over town the past few months, and this particular food trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit.
The Poke Shop (306 Water Street) is the latest poke joint to open up in Vancouver, taking over a space in Gastown that was previously a clothing store.
As you walk into the 30-seat restaurant that covers 1072-square-feet of completely renovated interiors, you’ll feel as if you’ve transported to Hawaii. With its ample lighting, wooden benches and counters, and a hand-painted mural of waves that allude to the tropical ocean waters, you might forget you’re still in rainy Vancouver.
There’s even a custom-table made of reclaimed maple wood created by a local carpenter, with a translucent blue glass running through the middle that references Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal. Furniture doesn’t get any more tropical than that.
“The back mural I had pictured in my head, and decided to have it hand-painted by a couple students from Emily Carr,” said Brian Leung, founder and chef of The Poke Shop, to the Straight. “It took around 25 hours.”
This restaurant isn’t Leung’s first dabble into the food realm—he’s had 15 years of work experience in the food industry. He’s known for being behind local fast-casual chain Teppan Kitchen, and is a graduate of Pacific Culinary Institute with a background in French and Italian cooking.
“I frequently travel to Hawaii, and [poke] is super popular there,” explained Leung. “I wanted to branch off and do a second concept, and I think this type of cuisine really fits with the city.”
When it comes down to the poke choices here, there’s basically an unlimited amount of combinations that can go into your customizable poke bowl.
Customers will first choose their base, which can range from japonica white rice to 12-grain organic purple rice (a popular choice here), before moving on to pick their proteins and toppings.
Protein options include ahi tuna, spicy albacore tuna, wild sockeye salmon, spicy baby scallop, grilled organic chicken, and more.
“We have almost 30 different types of toppings, and we don’t limit customers to how many they can choose because it’s the same fixed price,” said Leung. “A lot of people like to mix and match the savoury and sweet toppings, so they do the fruit and vegetable combo as well. We have an assortment of mango, pineapple, fresh pomegranate, cucumber, tobiko, and plenty others.”
To top off your poke bowl, be sure to add one of its eight different types of sauces for more flavour. Its most popular is the restaurant’s signature sauce, which is sweet, tangy, with a citrus note for a slight kick.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices, go for one of its signature bowls—pre-made bowls so you don’t have to decide what to get. But for first time customers, the owner recommends building your own bowl to get the most out of this poke experience.
The Poke Shop also serves some tasty drinks to quench your thirst, which pairs well with the poke bowls.
“We wanted to make our own unique and Hawaiian-inspired drinks,” said Leung as he pointed out the different flavours on the menu. “Our best-selling is the pineapple-plantation-iced-tea or the three-berry-lemon-soda.”
Customers can also expect changing menus, as Leung plans to offer “secret toppings of the day” or occasional special proteins.
There are other poke shops in the city, which undeniably means competition for the 33-year-old restaurateur. But does this make him any less confident of his newest food venture?
“Just from coming in through the front door, you can tell we’re not messing around,” said Leung. “We mean business, and it’s truly a different and unique poke experience.”
Scroll through the photos below for a look inside the newest poke shop in town.