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The Kuja Burger is a gigantic construction made of bread, a beef steak, bacon, fried egg, cheddar and emmentaltal cheeses, pickled cucumber, tomato, onion, coleslaw, rocket and garlic mayonnaise.On its website, Kuja is 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 tables to choose from, as well as the 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 warm 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. The burgers – described as "legendary" – have gained something of a reputation, in the one year and five months the establishment has been open.

"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 homemade," says Mika Launivuo, Kuja's head chef. "A lot of people have told us that they've had their best burgers here."

Kuja Bar and Bistro
Hakaniemenkatu 7
00530 Helsinki
Mon-Tues 11:00-22:00
Wed-Thu 11:00-midnight
Fri-Sat 11:00-2:00
Sun 11:00-21:00
tel: 0400-461 008
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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, one gets an impression from talking to Launivuo that the kitchen staff really are determined to offer authentic, fresh, self-made food without exceptions.

Lunch is served from 11 am to 2:30 pm 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 and 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. Launivuo says that people from all age groups seem to have found the place, with their clientele spanning from toddlers to the elderly: "There's no typical customer."

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MARI STORPELLINEN
HELSINKI TIMES

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