Kua ‘Aina

On the 8th November 2016, a shockwave was sent around the globe. The Republican, and outsider candidate, Donald Trump beat the Democrat nominee, and bookies’ favourite, Hillary Clinton in the race to become President of the United States of America. Trump was sworn in last week to end the eight year term of one of the world’s favourite Presidents, Barack Obama, a president elected (and re-elected) on a politics of hope and inclusivity – the polar opposite of the current incumbent. So, whilst the internet was celebrating his premiership with a number of quite frankly, excellent ‘best-moments’ montages, and Joe Biden memes, I tried to join in the only way I could, by eating a veggie burger. Where else then, than in a burger restaurant inspired by the archipelago of his birth, the state of Hawaii, called Kua ‘Aina just off Carnaby Street.

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Tenuous (if not topical) links aside, I was drawn to Kua ‘Aina in an attempt to sample a burger that had something different about it. A lot of the burger places in London are trying to outdo each other at the same game – the moody, minimal, meat-obsessed, hipster, don’t-care-but-actually-really-do vibe – but Kua ‘Aina takes a more unashamed approach. Walking into the kitsch, Hawaiian themed interior already adds an element of fun that you often don’t find in many burger joints. The menu of ‘lava-grilled’ burgers and sandwiches is brought over to you by waiters in Hawaiian shirts and has a whopping 21 different choices to choose from (three veggie, five fish). One of the veggie options was essentially salad in a bun though, so I had a straight choice between halloumi and red pepper, or a garlic butter infused portobello mushroom – I went for the latter, with a side of sweet potato fries. The real reason for the meal was because it was the last Friday of work in 2016, so to drink we sampled a few pitchers worth of the Hawaiian beers on draught from Kona Brewing Co.

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The burger itself was soft and juicy as advertised on the menu, the portobello mushroom(s) had been grilled just enough over the lava to keep their bite but also to burst with flavour as they were bitten into. It came in a ‘golden seeded bun’ – about halfway between a sesame and a brioche bun- which provided the best of both worlds. The whole thing was smaller than I was hoping, but satisfying nonetheless with the garlic butter adding an almost french, garlic mushroom feel to the ensemble.  The sweet potato fries were crunchy and the Big Wave golden pale ale was particularly delicious.

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Overall, my burger homage to Obama/end of year lunch at Kua ‘Aina was tasty and uplifting as it needed to be. One criticism would be that they had two clear veggie ‘burger’ options on the menu but neither were actually a genuine patty. Perhaps, a lot like Obama’s presidency, the main aims were achieved (in this case flavour and atmosphere), but if given some more time, and less resistance from the House of Congress (meat-eaters?) then maybe a truly unique Hawaiian veggie burger would have been achieved… with pineapple or something, I dunno.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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The Diner

Dalston, with all it’s hipster bars, vintage boutiques and nightclubs under corner-shops, is a blank place on the map for me when it comes to burger tasting. It’s not that there’s a dearth of gourmet burger joints in the area, it’s just that with Shoreditch being such a powerhouse of the London burger scene, Dalston gets left in it’s shadow. The question was: of Dalston’s numerous burger restaurants, which one to sample first? With a few independent restaurants, and kitchens in residence smattered around the place, it was actually the one chain restaurant that I decided to hit up first – the Diner (if only because it’s the first one you come across when walking up Kingsland Road from the south…).

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There’s a growing trend in the cooler retail and food establishments around these days that you’ve either got to feel like a club or look like a brothel. The Diner – from the outside at least – falls into the latter category. Once you get inside it’s a slightly more minimal vibe with big red bunkettes and exposed brick. As you sit down the first thing you’re presented with is a mind-bogglingly big beer menu, all overpriced and none on tap. Another disappointment was that my old favourite – the spicy bean burger, a burger I used to enjoy immensely when the diner first opened up a few years back – is no longer on the menu. What I did like, though, was that now there are now two different veggie burgers on the menu (out of 12), so I opted for the mushroom burger over the halloumi. For sides, Rach and I shared a portion ‘hanger fries’ (chips with fried onion, cheese and burger sauce), and some onion rings.

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The Mushroom Burger, served in a bun with aioli, swiss cheese, red peppers and basil, looked neat enough when it turned up. When I first bit into it, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. The combination of the garlicky aioli, fresh basil leaves and the jarred red pepper added a mediterranean twist to the already juicy and crispy breaded mushroom. At first glance I thought the burger might’ve been too small, but it turned out to be just the perfect amount. Just as well because the sides were indulgent, to say the least. The onion rings were delightfully crisp, big and full of big onion slices, but not at all soggy. The hanger fries were smothered in cheese and sauce and the crispy onion bits only added to the literally, and necessarily, finger-licking experience.

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The Diner may look like a bit of a dive from the outside, and maybe they have to ham up their already stylised decor for the Dalston store, but when it comes to the food they really deliver. The menu is big, the beer menu even bigger, but the burger menu stands out. If you’re going to Dalston and fancy a veggie burger but aren’t sure as to which of the small burger spots you want to sample, then a stop off at the Diner might not be such a bad shout after all.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10  

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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Patty & Bun

Meeting up with some North West London-based mates gave me a reason to shift my Easton London-centric burger hunt to the West-end. If Shoreditch is the heart of East London’s burger scene, then Marylebone is the same for the West. Of all the joints in this densely burger-populated area, Patty & Bun seems to be the name on everybody’s lips. From what I’ve heard, they seem to focus on what is most important of all, making sure their burgers are something to behold, so I had to see if their veggie burger was up to scratch.

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Even early on a Tuesday evening, Patty & Bun has a small queue out the front which could only be a good sign. Their restaurant on James St – one of two in London – seats about 30 covers, so when we were seated as a three we were squeezed round a two seater table, the distance to the next table somewhere between cosy and intimate. The menu boasts an impressive looking and sounding list of six burgers (one vegetarian) as well as some specials on the board. The Portobello ‘Dig It’ Mushroom burger looked interesting enough, (not that I had a choice to make!) but what I found unusual was the lack of hot veggie sides. Only the rosemary chips were available, and even they come in a non-vegetarian option – with chicken salt. There is coleslaw and salad available but both effectively come in the burger, so it was a Dig It burger with chips for me (and every other veggie in the house).

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My gripes were swiftly forgotten when the burger arrived, though. Oh my, what a burger! The Dig It burger puts a unique spin on the tried but tested ‘shroom burger by making it a ‘mushroom fritter’ – essentially making it a giant breaded mushroom. Breaded mushrooms are delicious in any form but when one’s freshly made and consists of the juiciest and most flavoursome mushroom of them all, then you have something special on (in) your hands. The first bite into this thing is one experience I will cherish for a long time, the first sensation is the flavour burst from the mushroom itself, then comes the waves of the cheese, the tarragon mayo, the herby garlic butter all being cut through by the fresh coleslaw on the base of the perfectly-sized, glazed brioche bun (which held together until the very last bite). The colours that dripped out of the burger, mixed with the ketchup, mayo and bloody tasty house hot-sauce that I had with my chips onto the paper wrapping – or should I say canvas – that the burger came in, resembled that of an impressionist painting, but at Patty & Bun, the chefs are the artists.

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I did have a few qualms about P&B though and it’s not just concerning the lack of veggie food to choose from. First of all, there is no beer on tap, only small cans or bottles, which just isn’t the same as a freshly poured pint. Secondly, I’m still not overly enamoured with the whole everything-in-paper vibe, sometimes it’s nice to have a plate. Lastly though, and most importantly was the fact that I felt like we were being rushed through our meal. There is a fine line between good service and feeling hurried, and I felt they were just the wrong side of it. Coupled with the fact that we weren’t allowed to be seated until our whole party of three had arrived, we ended up being seated, served, fed and paid up in just over half an hour. However, it’s clear that the reason for this is because demand for what Patty & Bun serve up is so high. In this burger game, one thing is always going to guarantee the return custom, and that’s damn good burgers.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 9.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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Dirty Burger

My brother is in town for a few days, down from his first term in uni up at Leeds, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone by catching up with him over a burger. I was looking forward to visiting Dirty Burger because it seems like a place that carries a no-frills vibe about it, but still presumably puts a lot of thought into their short-but-sweet food menu. The restaurant itself, just across the road form Boxpark by Shoreditch High Street station, is more of a take-away spot but they do have a bar running along the outside of the restaurant where you can sit.

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To give an idea of just how short the menu is, Dirty Burger only serves three burgers, of which one is vegetarian.  On the board, the veggie burger held no clues as to what it entailed so I was ordering blind. Unfortunately called the Dirty Cop Out (although I imagine whoever came up with that finds it hilarious) I tried as hard as I could to only refer to is as ‘the veggie burger’. My resistance proved futile, though, as the order was shouted back to the kitchen: ‘One cheeseburger and one Cop Out!’… ha ha. We decided to get one each of the crinkle cut fries and the onion fries – the only two sides availble.

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My first impression of the burger itself was that it was smaller that the usual. Also, just by looking at it I still couldn’t tell what it consisted of. The first thing I noticed was a disk of something hard and fried so I thought maybe a fritter, but on closer inspection (and a peak inside) I realise it was a mushroom covered in fried cheese! Taking a bite into it provided a surprisingly large burst of flavour for something so small. The cheese – smoked applewood – had been fried over and around the mushroom and it certainly packed a punch. A few slices of gherkin and a bunch of rocket were thrown in to counter the grease without much success, but the taste of the rocket worked well with the mushroom.

With the richness of the burger meaning I could only eat it at a bite a time before putting it back down, it was almost comical that the portion sizes and nature of the sides were how they were. Both the crinkle cut fries (double fried) and the onion fries (essentially, straight onion rings) were both delicious at first – especially the onion fries, which were made in a light batter and used red, rather than white, onions – but became harder and harder to face as we got through them. Coupled with the fact that my drink was a milkshake off the specials board (spiced apple and cinnamon – recommended), it quickly became one of the most calorific weekday lunches I’ve ever had.

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Simple, quick and flavoursome, Dirty Burger wasn’t too far away from what I imagined. However, my overriding memory of the experience was constantly having to grab another one of the many napkins they provided to wipe the grease off my fingers. As a lover of cheese, and to some extent grease, this was even a bit too much for me. I can picture it as the perfect late meal to catch on the way home after some afterwork drinks and the simplicity of the menu, and the layout of the restaurant, lends itself to that. Probably not the best spot for lunch then, especially for my poor little bro craving to catch up on his vitamin deficit whilst on his short break for student living.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Bun & Bar

What better place to start than in my own back yard?

Bun & Bar has been open since the end of August and is one of the latest additions to the Harringay wave of gentrification along Green Lanes. With Live music there on weekend evenings and a generally cool vibe otherwise, it’s quite an enjoyable place to wile away a couple of hours enjoying a few cocktails to go with your burger. It’s a quite a laid back establishment and you have to order at the bar but this adds to the relaxed mood.

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Amazingly, and almost unheard of in the burger restaurant world, Bun & Bar’s burger menu is 1/3 (ONE THIRD) vegetarian. Having sampled the B&B Vegetarian Burger before (which is delicious – especially with a bit of added stilton) I decided to go try the Portobello Veggie Burger.

I’m usually not a fan of a ‘shroom burger as I feel it’s a bit of a cop out for a burger chef who doesn’t want to try their hand at creating a truly tasty veggie patty. As the aforementioned B&B Vegetarian Burger proves, this is not a problem at Bun & Bar so I put my gripe behind me and got stuck in.

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Inside a brioche bun (why change a classic?) the portobello mushroom is served with a large roasted pepper, big slab of goats cheese and B&B yogurt sauce. The mushroom itself was big, juicy and full of flavour, whilst the richness of the goats cheese was counteracted by the pepper and yogurt for a very pleasant overall veggie burger experience.

At Bun & Bar the price of the burger ( < £10 ) includes rosemary fries but you can upgrade to sweet potato fries for only a quid more (although I had to ask for my gherkin!). They have a small but appetising selection of sides – one of which is a so far untried by me, yet delicious looking, slab of mac n cheese. I didn’t go for a cocktail this time but instead opted for a pint of the Crate Pale Ale – an American style, hoppy pale ale, brewed in London – which accompanied the burger perfectly.

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For a new business, out in the relative sticks, Bun & Bar is fairly busy most nights and I can see why: affordable, great burgers and a friendly atmosphere. This wasn’t my first time here, and it certainly won’t be the last!

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10