Popina Opens Tomorrow—Here’s Everything You Need To Know
Four of the city's tops chefs think it's high time you get reacquainted with Granville Island.
July 10, 2018
Any musical historian will tell you that supergroups are a tricky proposition. Soundgarden? Love ’em! Pearl Jam? The best. Temple of the Dog….er, not so much (although I do love me some Hunger Strike). Heck, even the relatively successful Travelling Wilburys were still the career low point of everyone involved except for the dude from ELO.
And make no mistake—Popina is a culinary supergroup: Robert Belcham (Campagnolo, Campagnolo Roma, Fuel, (re)Fuel), Joel Watanabe (Kissa Tanto, Bao Bei), Hamid Salimian (Team Canada, Diva at the Met, Bocuse D’Or) and Angus An (Maenam, Fat Mao, Longtail Kitchen, Sen Pad Thai, Freebird Chicken Shack). It’s an insanely talented ownership group, but my bet is that their genuine affection for each other will have them avoiding any Wu Tang-esque squabbles.
A few years ago the four of them kicked around the idea of doing four different concepts under one roof— a sort of friends’ foodhall concept—but ultimately they shelved the idea. But a while back the folks at CMHC (who run Granville Island) decided to make a master plan to sexy up the place and that’s where our dream team comes in. Initially the idea is that they’d have a more traditional stall in the market proper, but the Granville Island team had secured a few gussied-up shipping containers from the departed Hawker’s Wharf and a prime (maybe the prime) piece of the wharf dedicated to parking that was crying out for a modular spot.
Glasfurd & Walker have come in to zip up the containers and help with some visual identity. So here’s how it will go:
1. You’ll peruse a menu that is sort of a greatest hits of all the principals. The cheeseburger will be very familiar to those acolyte’s of Chef Belcham’s Dirty Burger, for example. Prices are pretty fair—there’s are a lot of mediocre burgers in these parts that are $12, And while the lobster roll at $26 is a bit of a shock, dude, lobster is expensive. The chicken-fried Humboldt squid ($12) looks like an early bet to be the secret order, and for the deep-pocketed, you can go to town all the way up to $180 for a huge mess of seafood.
2. You’ll order food here (the salads will be self-serve.)
3. Your food gets cooked in the very compact space (that’s Chef Watanabe at the end for a sense of scale).
4. Then you walk the length of the container to pick up your food.
5. And then there’s a seating area to enjoy it (it will look quite a bit spiffier than this when they open).
6. But the key here is what happens when you rotate 180 degrees from this. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it might be the best view in Vancouver. Look past these delightful 375mls from JoieFarm to see what I’m talking about.
7. And speaking of hooch, they’ve crafted a very tight, but sweet, menu that can fit in the equivalent of the beer fridge they have for storage. There’s the aforementioned half bottles of JoieFarm (Brut, Noble Blend and Pinot), which at $28 per are not much over 2x mark-up. Then there’s a tight selection—Negroni, Paloma, Popina Caesar and a Piper Collins—of pre-made cocktails at $12 per (and a cool assist from Glasfurd & Walker).
8. And finally two beers—both tall boys for $8—made by the excellent Powell Street. There’s their classic Ode to Citra and a custom lager, Hoi Polloi, made with the fellas’ input that likewise has some cool packaging that picks up on the design themes of the small space.
9. It’s these drinks as much as anything that hold the key to the quartet’s plan because, who’s kidding who, this place is going to be packed from opening until sundown from May to September with very happy tourists. But it’s when the hordes leave that these guys think there’s a golden opportunity—free parking, reasonable prices, great food and the best flipping view in the city. If that’s not enough to bring locals back to Granville Island then I don’t know what is. But maybe the most telling shot of the entire visit comes when I first get there: it’s Belcham, Salimian and Watanabe, doing some measuring while putting the finishing touches on the place. They may be three of the city’s best chefs but there also just three friends working on a cool project that they want everyone to love as much as they do.
Popina opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. with a preview menu only. Full service will begin later in the month.
1691 Johnson St, Vancouver