Making plans for dinner in Dalston is hard, because Dalston is so very full of distractions. Let it be a testament to how much I wanted to eat at Pond Dalston that we made it past everything N16 put in our paths that night. Past the expansive pub-full of Ghanaians wanting us to join their party – ‘Today my grandmother would be 100 years old if she only was not dead’, proclaimed the host – past the improbably good Turkish restaurants every ten feet on that stretch of Kingsland Road, past the synchronised rollerskaters doing something hipster and hypnotic in Gillett Square, and all the way to the concrete warehouse home of the only New Hawaiian restaurant in London.
I’d never heard of New Hawaiian cuisine. Or Old Hawaiian cuisine for that matter, and it’s not an ignorance that had ever troubled me much. Not until the first talk of Bryan Knight’s latest venture reached me, at which point I realised that all other food would be as ashes in my mouth until I found out what New Hawaiian food was.
From a drinks list that’s pleasingly heavy with puns I started with a whisky cocktail, slick with black tea tincture and green tea syrup – smoky, sweeter than it sounds and compellingly strange. My date homed in on the Kona Brewery ales; I’m told these beers make evangelists of otherwise half-hearted beer drinkers.
We met the array of menus and dish sizes with a scattergun approach, which I lay the blame for partly at the door of that whisky cocktail. But then the best laid plans will only take you so far with the food at Pond Dalston, because as it turns out the Small Plates aren’t much less substantial than the Big Plates, and some of the best dishes we had – a disassembled pork bun with a green taro paste, the chilli and dried fish-spiced Hurricane Popcorn – were from the ones exiled to the bar snack menu. From the Big Plates list the poke bulgogie is the one I would cross London for – seared beef, edamame and kimchee in a gluey dark mass.
If the menu at Pond Dalston is representative then here are my findings on New Hawaiian food: there’s taro root in all forms. An array of poke dishes mixing ceviche and seaweed. For me, one of the best features is their liberal way with kimchee. Who wouldn’t like to be surprised by kimchee more often? A savage, that’s who.
One thing we skipped over was the spam fries. Even though spam is a celebrated staple of Hawaiian cuisine. (Genuinely celebrated. See the annual Waikiki Spam Festival for further details.) Even though sometimes it’s the duty of a restaurant reviewer to eat, in the pursuit of solid intel, what all others rightly shun. Even though if anywhere could make spam be a good thing to have happen to you, it would probably be Pond Dalston.
Where food is concerned my date and I both keep a fairly broad church, but neither of us felt there was any room for spam in it. Not even high-concept spam. And especially not at the risk of having to sacrifice physical space for dessert. Surely in no world, not even the twilight zone of the Waikiki Spam Festival, are spam fries considered a good trade for the stateliness of roasted peanuts, crushed into miso butterscotch and poured onto a chocolate tart.
As we made our way out of Pond Dalston the music was turning beat-heavy and warehouse-appropriate. The bar area was emptier than it deserves to be, but then it was only turning 10 o’clock and in Gillett Square that’s barely the surface of the night. I imagine by 11:30 it’s crammed to bursting with off-duty rollerskaters and Ghanaian afterpartiers, drinking perfectly smoky cocktails and eating perfectly salted desserts. As it should be.
Pond Dalston, Unit G2, Stamford Works, 3 Gillett Street, London N16 8JH. Website.