Hawaiian dishes of raw fish arrive in Canary Wharf
We chat to Hawaiian food chain founder as the Wharf gets Pacific with its raw fish
Trained art expert James Gould-Porter doesn’t exactly look like he runs a Hawaiian restaurant brand. Instead of a brightly patterned shirt and sandals, he is wrapped up in a sheepskin jacket and suede boots, looking more like a young Oliver Stone than the head of a burgeoning food business.
“We’re staying far away from grass skirts and Hula dancers,” said the 26-year-old casting his eye over the Crossrail Place unit about to become his third Island Poke branch. “Kitsch aloha is not us at all.
“We are trying to pay homage to Hawaii but not ram obvious stereotypes down people’s throats.”
There are nods to the tropical islands though. Bright window wraps conceal the space’s transformation into a “grab and go” venue, serving up bowls of Hawaiian poke made with raw fish.
And the finished restaurant will have swinging window seats for those who want to “be transported to the Pacific” as they dine in.
But James expects most of his trade to come from the busy breakfast and lunch crowd.
From 8am it will serve up Hawaiian Kona coffee as well as acai berries blended with fruit, almond milk and toppings such as agave syrup, coconut shavings, chia seeds, goji berries, raw cocoa nibs or gluten free muesli.
At lunch it will switch to poke bowls which James describes as “deconstructed, interactive sushi”.
House Bowls will be £7.85 and Build Your Own £8.85, both coming with 100g of either Scottish or Norwegian salmon and line caught yellowfin tuna that has been super-frozen – not by Superman’s breath but by being taken down to -65C.
“There’s a bit of a stigma to eating frozen fish,” said James. “But when it comes to eating raw super-frozen locks in the freshness and kills any potential parasites.
“That means you can eat it when you’re pregnant.”
The fish, or roasted beetroot for vegetarians, sits on a base of sushi rice, brown rice, leafy greens or raw slaw and is finished with spring onion, sesame seeds and the customer’s choice of 14 toppings such as Furikake (a Japanese seasoning made from dried fish), burnt sweetcorn and spiced macadamia nuts.
A choice of pineapple chilli or yuzu mango salsa is the final touch.
“You get that Yin and Yang between the sweet and the savoury,” said James who is collaborating with Giant Robot trader Yum Bun on a speciality bowl.
He first ate poke aged eight when visiting his aunt in Hawaii.
“All the local kids stopped at this roadside poke shack,” he said. “It really resonated with me seeing them go mad for this strange rice and raw fish dish.
“I thought it was bizarre but delicious.”
He went on to study art history and land a job at Bonhams auction house specialising in contemporary middle eastern art.
But in 2016 he quit his job and got a loan to pursue his passion – starting out with early morning visits to Billingsgate to buy fish he served at street stalls and to companies including Google.
He opened his first Island Poke in Kingly Street, Soho, a year ago. Broadgate Circle followed in August
We are trying to pay homage to Hawaii but not ram obvious stereotypes down people’s throats James Gould-Porter, Island Poke
and the Canary Wharf branch is due to launch on December 11.
James said he wanted to avoid the “cut and paste” approach of other brands such as Pret, Eat and Itsu.
“Canary Wharf is going through a bit of a shake up,” he said. “They have all their high street brands and what we can offer is something different.
“We are not a classical hospitality outfit. We treat customers like best friends.
“It sounds a bit corny but we are trying to stay true to that as we move further east.”
Go to islandpoke.co.uk for more information.
James gave up a career with Bonhams to follow his dream by creating a food business MATT GRAYSON
Island Poke is expected to open on December 11 in Crossrail Place serving raw fish with a selection of 14 toppings