Sunday 25 May 2014

Kurobuta – Marble Arch, London

In July this year I’ll be 39. I know many of my contemporaries would view nearing the ‘Big Four 0’ with some dismay but I can’t wait. This has nothing to do with wanting to take up golf or being strangely drawn to the stay-pressed action slacks I have seen in the windows of M & S.

The reason I am eagerly counting down the days to my fortieth year is because I promised to treat myself to a gastronomic holiday in Japan.

Even though I draw the line by not listening to J-Pop, I do consider myself as something of a Japanophile – enjoying much of their art, culture, food and the occasional ninja.

When it comes to Japanese food I am usually all about “authentic” – Yuzu, a small, humble Japanese ‘shokudo’ in Chinatown is one of my favourite places to eat in Manchester and when in Singapore, Shinji by Kanesaka is always top of my list and I can’t walk past a ramen-ya without checking it out.   

That said, I have been known to appreciate the occasional Japanese ‘fusion’ – meals at Adrià’s Pakta, Tetsuya’s Waku Ghin and Nobu spring to mind; which brings us nicely to Kurabuta.

Joining similar ventures ‘Flesh & Buns’ ‘Sticks ’n’ Sushi’ ‘Akari’ and ‘Yoi Sho’, Kurobuta is a Japanese “izakaya” (gastropub, with greater emphasis on gastro) from, the former head chef of Nobu London, Australian born Chef / Proprietor Scott Hallsworth.

They have been trading from a “pop-up” in Chelsea for a few months but this permanent home, a short walk from Marble Arch, has only recently opened.

We visited at lunchtime to find many of the outside tables occupied but with plenty of space within. Word is, the evenings get busier as the lights go down and a more ‘pubby’ atmosphere is created.

Going with the Japanese pub concept my wife ordered a Kirin Ichiban with ‘frozen head’ whilst I chose the “Misty Mountain” sake from their impressive collection – a partially unfiltered Junmai sake with sweet and sour notes, made using the traditional ‘bodaimoto’ method. It went particularly well with the spicy scallop dish. 

The menu is arranged into sections with different headings, we selected something from each with the exception of the Robata BBQ.

From Snack we had Sweet potato & soba-ko fries and Crunchy rice senbei crisps with avocado jalapeño dip – the sweet potato fries, which I’m guessing had been dusted with buckwheat flour prior to cooking for the ‘soba-ko’ element, were not at all floppy as is often the case; the senbei crisps were delightfully light, a world away from the packet varieties found in Asian grocers.  The avocado jalapeño dip was delicious… I was gutted that they didn’t sell bottles of the stuff.

From Cold / Raw / Salad: Scallop sashimi with kimchee butter & tobiko – an interesting dish despite the fact I found the scallops lost and the spiciness of the kimchee largely tempered by the butter. The popping sensation of the yuzu tobiko (flying fish roe) helped to make it enjoyable.

From Something crunchy: Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu dip – another snack style dish that would be hard to knock.

From Junk food Japan: Wagyu beef sliders, steamed bun, crunchy onions, pickled cucumbers & umami mayo – I’ve had wagyu burgers before and felt them a waste of quality beef but I’m always prepared to give things a second chance. Sadly my opinion remains unchanged. They were well put together, tasty little things but next time I’d rather spend the £19 on a couple of dishes which celebrate cheaper ingredients.

From Significant others: Crispy skin duck confit, watermelon, daikon pickle & spicy peanut soy – I thought this dish okay but my wife loved it. The range of textures and flavours were certainly not dull.

And Nasu dengaku, sticky miso grilled aubergine with candied walnuts – I loved this one. With the sticky caramelly sauce and candied walnuts it could have almost been a dessert but the savoury miso and bitter smokiness kept it balanced… a real beauty.

From Sushi: Sweet & sour snow crab with yuzu kosho mayo – delightfully sweet snow crab with a subtle sour element from the yuzu kosho (a type of green chilli) mayo and tokiko wasabi tobiko.

For dessert I had a Yuzu Tart with Matcha Meringue and my wife had Carrot Cake – both were good.

Overall, I enjoyed Kurobuta – the staff were efficient and friendly and the food was at least different in the instances where it wasn’t excellent. It’s definitely a place I’ll keep an eye on and consider returning to when we are next in the capital.

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