Published in Helsinki Times 25.9.2014
Delicious food, tasty beer, friendly service and affordable prices – what more could you ask from a restaurant? With the microwave oven chucked to the bin, Kuja is driven by love for food and pure tastes.
On its website, Kuja is being described as a combined bar and bistro. The name Kuja, meaning ’alley’, further implies that this is not a place for fine dining but rather an informal and laid-back restaurant that provides on a cosy atmosphere and good food.
As we arrive, it is late afternoon. Kuja has just passed its busy lunchtime period and offers a variety of free tables to choose from, as well as an opportunity to view this month’s photo exhibition featuring bicycle-themed pictures on the walls of the restaurant. A brick wall paired with plain wooden floor boards and simple, black lamps hanging from the ceiling give the place a rough, industrial feel, yet the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming.
Studying the menu, we find that there is a lot to choose from, with meal options stretching from salads and burgers to crêpes and steaks. In the one year and five months the establishment has been open, the burgers – described as legendary – have gained something of a reputation.
“I can’t actually put my finger on what it is that makes them so special. Maybe it’s the quality that comes with food being home-made”, says Kuja’s head chef Mika Launivuo.
”A lot of people have told us that they’ve had their best burgers here.”
Fresh and self-made
The website declares that the chefs have thrown away the microwave oven “because you would end up using it if it’s there”. In addition to that statement, talking to Launivuo one gets an impression that the kitchen staff really is determined to offer authentic, fresh, self-made food without exceptions.
Lunch is served from 11am to 2.30pm and the menu changes every day. However, bread baked daily, fresh salad and tea or coffee are always included. The dinner menu is more permanent, changing just three times a year. Furthermore, an extensive brunch is served on the weekends. Regardless of the day or hour, the kitchen staff put their best efforts into the preparation of all of their food. As a head chef, Launivuo holds the main responsibility in putting the menus together.
“I draw inspiration from cook books and create dishes that are suitable for a bistro. It’s not unusual to have a twist to the food, with either American or Finnish influences,” he says.
“The definition of a bistro for us means making this a place where food is prepared by skilled professionals in a relaxed manner. A laid-back atmosphere with easily approachable staff is also an essential part of it. The key idea is to offer top quality food at affordable prices.”
Kuja seats approximately 60 people, and the terrace holds a further 20 during the summer season. Launivuo says that people from all age groups seem to have found the place, with the clientele stretching from toddlers to the elderly:
“There’s no typical customer.”
Nurtured by art and gigantic burgers
The food arrives swiftly, and is beautifully presented. My choice of meal is smoked salmon, which comes with asparagus, early potatoes and white wine sauce. The sauce is light and foamy, adding a luxurious feel to the dish. The salmon is tender, the asparagus compact. Apart from the white wine sauce, the meal doesn’t surprise with any unusual elements but is perfect for those who love the pure taste of smoked salmon and asparagus. You get exactly what you expect.
My companion opts for Kuja burger, which proves to be a bit more adventurous choice. The Kuja burger is a gigantic construction made of bread, a beef steak, bacon, fried egg, Cheddar and Emmentaler cheeses, pickled cucumber, tomato, onion, coleslaw, rucola and garlic mayonnaise. The whole creation is only just kept together by a knife stuck through it, and it is exactly as hefty as the list of ingredients would have you expect. In other words, there’s no longer need for wondering why the burgers have gained their legendary reputation. Along with the burger comes also a side order of one’s choice, with an option for either salad, raw root vegetable sticks, deep-fried sweet potato, French fries, or crisps. Mildly put: as our burger arrives with French fries, there is no chance of either of us leaving the place feeling hungry.
We wash the delicious meals down with the house beer, Kujan Ipa, that has been special-made for Kuja and its sister restaurant Café Bar No 9. The ale is of good quality, and sipping it on the sunny terrace tops off the whole experience.
Launivuo tells that the place is, in fact, specialised in beers, providing an extensive list of ale to choose from:
“The staff has specifically been trained to assist the customers in choosing their beers.”
According to him, August has been the busiest month so far.
“On a daily basis, we get busy during the lunchtime, and then typically around 7 o’clock in the evening.”
Apart from serving hefty meals, Kuja has profiled as a supporter to different forms of culture. In addition to the monthly changing photo exhibition, it took part in the Art goes kapakka event in August.
“Generally, we’re open to all kind of suggestions for co-operation when it comes to events and culture,” Launivuo says.
Kuja Bar and Bistro, open Mon-Tues 11-22, Wed-Thu 11-00, Fri-Sat 11-2, Sun 11-21
Address: Hakaniemenkatu 7, 00530 Helsinki
Tel: 0400-461 008