If you are looking for the traditional Hawaiian meal of spam, then this won't be the post for you, instead you are much better off taking a look at SPAMJAM 2011, a Hawaiian festival for lovers of Spam.
This post, instead, takes a look at Kua'Aina, a recently opened Hawaiian burger and sandwich grill just off Carnaby Street in Soho. I popped in to sample their wares over a Friday lunchtime, and meet the owners, ex-Lehman Brothers staff who bailed when it all went tits up, and hold Kua'Aina's UK and European franchise licence.
The blue and white façade of Kua'Aina's cafe front, situated on Fourbert's Place off Carnaby Street, stood out like a beacon of burger-filled joy on a day marked by torrential rain and grumpy tube travellers (let's face it though, when aren't they?). The cafe itself was smaller than I'd thought, a couple of outdoor tables either side of the entrance funneled diners into a relatively narrow pass, a chiller full of Luscombe's chilled drinks on the left, to the counter where the smell of grilling meat rises from the long griddle along the back wall of the venue. I didn't explore the downstairs seating area, but there is more seating below decks.
In spite of the rain, a steady stream of customers passed me as I braved the London monsoon at an outside table, dining with a colleague from an agency next door.
Bacon Cheese Burger (1/3lb patty) with Monterey Jack cheese: £7.95, Regular fries: £1.95 = £9.90. Sweet potato wedges - £2.45.
Taking me straight back to the days when 1/4 chicken and chips were served a grease-proof papered basket, so arrived my Bacon Cheese Burger. Served lid-off, lettuce and tomato under the hood, chargrilled beef patty, bacon and Monterey Jack cheese on the bun base, lonely stick of carrot poking up from the side of the basket. I liked it - refreshingly different, and quite nostalgic.
|A lonely carrot, yesterday.|
The regular (and pretty substantial portion) of fries also came out in a wooden bowl with greaseproof paper, and looked hot and crispy.
Putting the two sides of the burger together made this, which you have to admit looks like a big wedge juicy burger goodness.
Good. Rashers of bacon were unsmoked, and fairly well cooked, salty but not overbearingly so. Monterey Jack cheese came unmelted which was a little disappointing, with the size of the griddle I was hoping it would be a little more melted, still it was a tasty, gummy morsel. The salad was fresh and added to the sandwich, mixing its juices with the rare-cooked patty.
Great. I asked for my patty cooked rare and they did a pretty good job on the griddle.
This was great quality meat, a mixture of fat and juice dribbled down my hand into a satisfying puddle in the bowl (which incidentally is when I worked out what the carrot was for - to cut through the grease at the end of the burger). Kua'Aina's patties are a rib/sirloin blend, and are minced and pressed by a West Country butcher, before being delivered fresh 3-4 times a week.
I was interested to find out from the owners that the meat arrives completely unseasoned, and all marinades/rubs are applied in house to the original 35 year old Kua'Aina Hawaii recipes. The seasoning on the burger patty is well balanced (all we know is it's named 'Da secret salt', and 'Da secret spray') and complements the flavour of the meat. Add a touch of chargrilling on the lava rock grill and you get a great charred BBQ taste to the whole package.
Good. The 'Golden bun' the burgers are served with is part-brioche, part-white bap (complete with slashed valleys on top to aid the rising process), sprinkled liberally with sesame and poppy seeds, which works really well with the patty - stubbornly hanging together until the last mouthful. Apparently these buns (delivered daily from a London baker) had undergone rigorous testing to ensure disintegration was prevented under the weight of a juicy 1/2lb med-rare patty, post chargrill toasting.
Great. Full marks go to the regular fries, and the sweet potato fries. Both were cooked to within an inch of perfection - the regular fries crisp, salted, and displaying a rough, slightly sticky exterior similar to Burger King fries (the best fast food fries EVER!). The sweet potato fries were also crisp, parsnipy and totally moreish, but not as salted as the regular fries - they tasted like hot, thick Tyrrels vegetable chips. This is a very good thing.
Overall score: 8/10
I was mightily impressed with Kua'Aina, considering the ability to find bland, overpriced food in London's West End, and the close proximity to the mediocre Carnaby Burger Co. (mediocre on hearsay and to be confirmed at a later date), I wasn't expecting the quality and attention to burger detail that I found.
The one thing I would note is I didn't particularly feel the Hawaiian vibe. I can most probably boil this down to the fact that I was sat outside, in the rain, and it felt like November, but nevertheless the food was delivered quickly, the open lava rock griddle filled the place with wonderful BBQ aromas, and the burger was very tasty. At 10p shy of £10 this can't be classed as a cheap burger, but it is WELL worth a visit and I will definitely be back (next time to get my teeth round the 1/2lb option, and perhaps try to influence the addition of a spam burger...).