KUA ‘AINA BRINGS HAWAIIAN BURGERS TO LONDON
In Hawaii, Kua ‘Aina (pronounced Koo-a eye-na) is an institution. The burger & sandwich joint has been serving Haleiwa islanders for over 35 years including Barack Obama, who counts the lava grilled Avocado burger as one of his favourites. Despite its reputation in Hawaii, the brand only exploded onto the world scene once it branched out to Tokyo in 1997, and 15 years later, Japan is home to 17 restaurants.
The franchise has now arrived in London, with the West End being home to Europe’s only Kua ‘Aina. The owners have followed the same formula that made the original restaurant a success including the ½ lb burgers, lava grilled sandwiches, and stacked American pancakes. We took a trip down to Foubert’s Place to find out what has made the Japanese fall head over heels for this fast food grill.
It’s Friday evening and the 2 levels are packed with guests, so it’s a good thing we have a reservation for one of the cave like booths downstairs. Looking around, the crowd is youthful, with mainly large groups of friends and the simple menu lends to this with a number of sharing dishes available. We go halves on corn chips, which come with an impressive homemade salsa which whets the appetite for our burgers to follow.
I go for ½ lb Pineapple burger and I’m tempted into loading up with bacon and cheese, while my companion sticks with the ordinary by comparison cheeseburger. They arrive quickly and looking at the tall stack of meat et al is a daunting prospect and at under £10, it’s hard to question the value. Eating is certainly a messy affair, so have tissues at the ready- but as everyone seems to be having the same trouble; no one takes any notice of my hands which are dripping with various sauces. I had mixed feelings about having a grilled pineapple in my burger, but it worked well and gave it character. By the time I got to the last bite, I was stuffed, but I was also left with a sense that something was missing. In my experience, I have found that a full flavoured, juicy patty can make all the difference between a good and a great burger; and this is what prevented me putting this one into the ‘great’ category.
Kua ‘Aina is ideal if you are looking for a hearty meal after spending the day shopping on Oxford St or as a precursor for a night out on the tiles, offering a relaxed atmosphere and good value for money. There is a great story behind the brand and has the potential to gain a cult following in the West End, but with so many great gourmet burger restaurants in London, I think it will be difficult to match the success achieved in Asia and Hawaii.
Kua ‘Aina, 26 Foubert’s Place, W1F 7PP. Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
Main dishes priced around £7 not including sides, for bookings visit www.kua-aina.co.uk or phone 020 7287 7474