Hawaiian restaurant POND Dalston is a visual knock out, taking a Victorian warehouse and shaking it up with an elongated bar, red leather booths that mimic volcanoes, paper pineapples and a cardboard shark. All this plus warm and attentive service that smacks of island hospitality. The man behind the surreally brilliant transformation of this corner of Gillett Square is the Reverend Byron Knight, who also co-founded Off Broadway and, incidentally, makes a Hawaiian shirt and a mohican look as if they are meant to be together.
POND Dalston serves New Hawaiian Cuisine – true fusion cooking which stems from a dizzying cultural synthesis, where Japanese, Thai and Filipino workers on sugar cane and pineapple estates encountered Portuguese missionaries bearing salt cod and doughnuts and Mexican rancheros who brought tortillas and an appetite for beef to the mix.
New Hawaiian Cuisine interprets these disparate elements with respect for fresh ingredients, as well as for odd island favourite Spam: Hawaii is the world’s biggest consumer of canned pork shoulder and pig butt. POND’s shared plates of sushi, sashimi and tender pulled pork are presented with delicacy and a gorgeous eye for colour and detail. Try your hand at their pineapple upside cake here. Brains-behind-the-bar Megs Miller has created a drinks menu to match: it’s a white bar, with no aged/coloured spirits. Mix your own POND special with Meg’s original recipe for Dalston Ti Punch.
Byron himself is a Hackney/Hawaiian-esque one-man cultural fusion, with a Jewish father and a Japanese Buddhist mother. Brought up in Los Angeles, he dropped out of rabbinical school two weeks before his bar mitzvah and dived into punk rock culture – and work. He was working in construction at the age of 12, and had his own apartment by the time he was 15, moving up the restaurant food chain from waitering in a pizza place to managing a French Okinawan restaurant and seasonal Californian bistro Bay Wolf. There was also a stint as a born-again Christian preacher – thus the ‘reverend.’
At 27 Byron sold all his belongings and hit the road as an activist, visiting Cuba, teaching indigenous people in Chiapas in Mexico and living in Hawaii for a year, immersing himself in the islands’ sovereignty movement. He eventually lost his taste for activism, disillusioned by the lack of cohesion, and in a big about-turn worked for an investment banker in Hong Kong and an ex-mayor of New York.
Byron said adios to the USA under Bush, and hit Hackney to co-found Off Broadway and Duke’s with friends. He was nurturing no particular plans for a New Hawaiian restaurant, but when he walked into the unloved warehouse on Gillett Square he decided that’s what it should become. E voila! Hackney has one of its most ambitious, unusual and downright fun places to eat and drink: it’s hard to imagine necking a candyfloss negroni and sharing Spam sushi whilst being in a bad mood. Byron’s positive energy pervades the volcanic culinary eruption that is POND Dalston. And he’s now engaged in facilitating his staff members’ plans to run their own ventures. All we can say is ʻŌkole maluna – bottoms up!