Kua Aina, Carnaby Street, London

Juicy, lava-stone grilled deliciousness.

Burger source

“Legendary lava-grilled juicy hand-pressed 100% premium beef burgers since 1975,” and “a favourite of President Barack Obama.” They literally had to say no more, but they did:

“Our burgers are 100% beef, fresh from our butcher in Devon, made to our recipe from premium cuts of rib and hand-pressed in two sizes.  They contain no fillers, rusk or preservatives. We season our burgers and sandwich fillings with our homemade marinades and seasonings and cook everything to your order on our hot lava grills. Our semi-brioche seeded buns and artisan breads are freshly baked for us by a Michelin-starred chef seven days a week.”

And the story is fascinating: “Kua ‘Aina, or “Koo-a eye-na”, means “back country”, but is more often used to describe a country bumpkin in Hawaii. For native Hawaiians it can mean those who actively live Hawaiian culture and keep the spirit of the land alive.”

I was excited, and glad that it’s round the corner from Tom & Chris’ office, which made it convenient for a lunchtime burger.

The order

There was a lot on offer; I went for a near-standard cheese and bacon burger, unusual in that it  was served with a thick slice of grilled onion alongside the lettuce, tomato, burger, cheese and mayo, served on a seeded demi-brioche roll. It was offered in 1/3rd and 1/2 lb sizes; I went for the former – it was lunchtime – with a side of fries. In retrospect (next time!) I will try the huli-huli burger – a spice blend that sounded interesting and perhaps a little more distinctive (Tom had the huli-huli chicken sandwich.)

I was asked how I wanted it, and duly informed they weren’t allowed to serve it less than medium (I opt for medium rare where legal to do so!).

The meat of it

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Before I get into the food – the atmosphere in this place was fantastic. It helped that it was a warm day but there was an instant ‘tropical-ness’ (tropicality?) to the place; the staff seemed well-trained in whatever this version of the Hawaiian way looks like (open, friendly, engaging), the aromas from the lava-stone grill were amazing and the décor and vibe was ludicrously chilled for a spot 3 minutes’ walk from Oxford street in Central London. We didn’t even have to wait for a table! I hope that doesn’t bode poorly for the owners, but it was good for us.

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The food arrived promptly enough; the brioche clearly serves both the 1/3rd lb and the 1/2 lb burger and so was somewhat oversized for the smaller patty; however the flavour balance was excellent. A well-seasoned, coarse ground, medium packed patty was cooked perfectly to medium.

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The melt-on cheese added savoury gooeyness contasted marvelously with thick, slightly chewy, slightly crisp streaky bacon. The tomato, I ate separately (believing firmly it has no place in a burger).  The onion added a charred, satisfying crunch, the saltyness of the burger/cheese/bacon combo was countered by the semi-sweetness of the bun and the onion, the overall effect was really good. Splitting hairs – as I find myself having to – the slightly oversized bun wasn’t right for the smaller patty and so the ratio was just a tiny bit off. But that wouldn’t stop me from ordering it again.

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The fries were of the thin-cut, skin-on variety, a relative of those you might find in McDonald’s on its best day – paler than I’d expect but crisp and well-seasoned (perhaps even slightly over-seasoned, but again – hairsplitting). The portion was slightly small for the price, though.

Just had a water (lunchtime, working day, natch) – but would like to go back to try the hard shakes at some stage!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £14  for the burger and sides plus service – which would be fine if the side wasn’t so teeny. Not that you needed more… but it should perhaps have cost less!

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really a wonderful experience;  delightful atmosphere, lovely food, great service, reasonably priced. If I’d manned up and ordered the 1/2 lb burger, doubtless it would have been perfect.

The deets

If you’re not going to Hawaii, you can find Kua Aina on Goodge Street and Carnaby Street. Details here.

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