Friday, 5 August 2011
Kua 'Aina, Soho
Of all the internationally-renowned burger chains that I have my fingers and toes crossed for a London branch (Shake Shack, In'N'Out, Five Guys, to name but a few) it's probably fair to say the Hawaiian-themed Kua 'Aina wasn't too high up on the wish list. When I first heard the news of their arrival here, I did a quick scan of the website and concluded that anywhere you could order a pineapple and avocado burger with a straight face probably wasn't going to take anything very seriously, and put it to the back of my mind. But with much the same attitude as my visit to Guerilla Burgers, namely "it's probably crap but at least it's a burger", I found myself in the brand spanking new Soho branch of Kua 'Aina and I'm happy to report that, despite the proto-chain feel and the existence of pineapple and avocado on the menu, it's really rather good.
"Anything you can think of we can make" boasted the waitress taking our order, perhaps overstating reality slightly but it still showed an enthusiastic desire to please. If I'd wanted to hate the place I may have indeed gone for something involving pineapple and avocado, but believe it or not my desire for a nice lunch was greater than that for any kind of schadenfreude-laden writeup, so we ordered a Bacon Cheeseburger (with Swiss cheese) and my friend had a standard cheeseburger (with Monterey Jack), with a large portion of fries to share.
It was only when we'd found a cave to call our own in the strange labyrinth of nooks and crannies downstairs at Kua 'Aina that I began to think that perhaps there was more to the place than the tacky Hawaiian-theme suggested. For a start, the selection of condiments was absolutely spot-on - Heinz ketchup, French's mustard and Tabasco, all bases covered and everything as it should be. And I was also heartened to see that other diners' food was being brought in plastic bowls lined with greaseproof paper - a terribly nerdy thing to notice perhaps but I honestly don't think there's any better way of serving burgers.
As you can most likely tell even from the photo, there is plenty to criticise about the Kua 'Aina bacon cheeseburger. That... thing on the left is a thick grilled slice of onion, which unravelled on eating into long, slimy worms and provided nothing but irritation. There on the right is far too much salad, which I quickly dumped along with the slick of cheap mayonnaise. And yes, that in the middle is a carrot stick. No, I don't know what I was supposed to do with it.
But relieved of the salad and put together and ignoring the onion (and carrot), the burger was actually very tasty. The beef was cooked perfectly medium and was as juicy as you'd ever want, the bacon was crispy and salty and provided good texture, and even the Swiss cheese (there was no Kraft option sadly) worked very well - melty and dense. The bun was a bit dry and I'd prefer pickle chips to sticks (ie. sliced horizontally rather than lengthwise), but I still couldn't help enjoying it. And the fries were excellent, crispy and salty and tasty right down to the bottom of the bowl.
It goes without saying there are better burgers in London - even in this price range Byron probably has them beat, at least in terms of the burger itself - but you know what? There is far, far worse out there too. And given recent rants, the fact they aren't overcooking anything is cause enough for celebration. For the price and location, Kua 'Aina are just about punching above expectations, certainly my expectations, and despite the flaws, I really enjoyed my lunch there. I will almost definitely be back.