- The Dish: The Vegan Ahi Bowl
- The Place: Island Poké
- The Chef: Founder James Gould-Porter
What? While raw seafood is a staple of poké, operators can’t ignore the powerful plant-based revolution knocking on the door.
So Island Poké has taken on the challenge with the launch of its Vegan Ahi Bowl – which it claims is the first of its kind in the UK market.
Developed in-house, the plant-based tuna is made by marinating watermelon in similar ingredients to its signature dish The Classic Ahi poké bowl. The watermelon is then gently cooked to create a product that is meant to mimic the look, taste and texture of regular tuna.
It comes served on a bed of sushi rice, topped with wakame seaweed, pineapple chilli salsa and spring onion, along with a smattering of crispy shallots and sesame seeds.
“We are thrilled to be launching our new plant-based poké, finally giving our guests a chance to enjoy a real vegan poké experience,” said Island Poké’s founder James Gould-Porter. “We have always wanted to create a vegan option that truly delivers on taste and texture and, following a lot of recipe testing, we’ve developed a dish that captures our ‘Island Poké Ohana’ – our passion for incredible food and friendly vibes.”
Where? There are six Island Poké sites to taste this new sensation, including Shoreditch, Canary Wharf, Soho’s Kingly Court, Bank, Fitzrovia and Broadgate Circle.
Gould-Porter wants to evolve Island Poké into a lifestyle brand too through events, music, collaborations and retail.
“We are really trying to change the landscape of grab-and-go, and position poke as more of a genre rather than a food type,” he added. “We see poke as more of a vehicle for a style of eating – it doesn’t need to be exclusively raw fish and rice.”
Why? Plant-based alternatives to meat have dominated this space in foodservice, particularly beef, but there hasn’t been such a strong showing on the seafood front.
Hackney-based fish and chip shop Sutton & Sons introduced an entirely vegan menu, which included banana blossom to mimic the British classic, prawns made with a potato starch and fish cakes made with seitan and soya protein.
Whole Foods predicted marine munchies as one of the big trends for 2019, including plant-based tuna alternatives made with algae ingredients, and retail has been a major player in casting its fishing rod out to sea.
London brand Ima launched in Planet Organic earlier this year with plant-based salmon using konjac and also has made vegan crab rolls with jackfruit. Founder Jessica Chan said tuna was the next target for a plant-based transformation.
US brand Loma Linda debuted in Morrisons in May with its tuna made with soy, seaweed and flavourings to mimic the tuna taste. Shoppers can choose from Spring Water, Mayo (made with vegan mayonnaise), Lemon Pepper and Sweet Chilli, all of which are available in 142g cans, together with 85g on-the-go pouches covering the additional flavour of Sesame Ginger.
Tesco’s chief plant pusher Derek Sarno has a company with his brother Chad called Good Catch Foods, which has released pouches of plant-based tuna in the US made with a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans, navy beans and algae oil. Sarno has signalled the brand will also be coming to the UK.
Another Stateside brand, Ocean Hugger Foods, has been plugging its vegan tuna – made with tomatoes, non-GMO soy sauce, filtered water, sugar and sesame oil – across restaurant chains, markets and in Whole Foods.
Interestingly, it appears that Island Poké is the first in the UK to experiment with watermelon as the main ingredient in a fish alternative. However, it’s a fruit that isn’t foreign to plant-based innovation. At the end of last year, New York restaurant Duck’s Eatery went viral for its stand-in for a ham created from smoked watermelon that had been cured for four to six days, dried, smoked for eight hours and then finished in a pan.