For many of us, an oyster is as raw a food as it gets. A slurpy mouthful of a sea-seasoned bivalve mollusc. You love it or you hate it. Same goes for concrete as a dominant decorative element. You either love it or hate it, too.
At the recently opened ShuckShuck Oyster Bar at 227 East Pender Street in the heart of Vancouver’s expansive Chinatown, the novice owners have hung their hats solidly on these two raw pegs. Oysters and concrete dominate this small bar, the first restaurant endeavour of entrepreneurs Larry Lau and Waylon Sharp who had dreamed about this type of concept since 2017 when they were MBA students at Western University’s Ivey Business School in London, Ontario.
In late 2020, to realize their dream in the characterless and boxy physical space they had selected for their oyster bar they invited Toronto-based Batay-Csorba Architects founded in 2012 by architects Jodi and Andrew Batay-Csorba.
The under one thousand square-foot, brand-new space is on the ground floor of the new seven-storey Framework by Porte condo development, squeezed between a small bakery and a vegan gelato shop.
Batay-Csorba expressed the rawness and clear ambition of the concept by creating only one dominant visual element: the custom-designed and tailor-made 17-metre-long (56 ft) curving raw-concrete table. It is strikingly fitting for the concept although, strictly speaking, oysters do not have the curvy insides of many other molluscs, but their extra-hard shells do resemble concrete in their solidity and protection of the mollusc inside. Polished-concrete floors, exposed utility pipes and bare-bulb light-fixtures complete the refreshingly frank and straightforward interior.
The culinary concept is astonishing as well. Instead of offering a variety of oysters from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada, the owners are using only one type – the Pacific oyster (Miyagi) – and receive it from their sole supplier, Vancouver Island’s Evening Cove.
Moreover, the new restaurateurs are on a mission “to educate the world about oysters as a sustainable food option.” And they plan to do it by making oysters “fun and approachable” by adding familiar toppings, sauces and ingredients to the oysters. Maple Syrup, ketchup chips, bacon or peanut dust and peanut butter are among the regular menu items. There are also Big Mac-inspired toppings, fiery Korean kimchi and gochujang and, the most unexpected: sweet lemon-curd topping.
Now is not the time to judge any restaurant’s success, so we will need to wait to see what the post-pandemic reaction of the public is to this most ambitious addition to Vancouver’s competitive culinary scene. Tuija Seipell
Photos Sama Jim Canzian @silentsama