Kurobuta pop-up stays up

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London’s Little Beirut has a new resident, and it’s Japanese. The run of Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha cafes that stretches between Marble Arch and Paddington is now the permanent home for last year’s pop-up sensation Kurobuta. Serving classic sushi and grilled meats as well as more inventive dishes, it’s a lively place that’s sure to go the distance.

Kurobuta means “black pig” in Japanese, but refers specifically to a high-quality ham. And it’s a high-quality place, created by chef Scott Hallsworth, an Australian who carries the holy grail of Japanese cooking experience, having been head chef at Nobu London for several years before then opening Nobu Melbourne. But where Nobu commands a certain sombre reverence at its tables, Hallsworth’s airy, wooden interior is fun and energised – his menu high-end but accessible.

Food is on the pricey side though not extortionate and divided into themes – snacks, raw, bbq, something crunchy, Japanese junk. Flamed sake edamame or squid with jalapeno dipping sauce make a good distraction while you’re choosing. For mains, the tea-smoked lamb chops (£15.50) were spicy and tender, and both the duck confit with watermelon (£14) and the roasted Chilean seabass in a citrus shiso sauce (£18) made us smile. The takikomi gohan, a wasabi and mushroom rice hot pot (£10), was filling but light and you could taste every flavour in the quinoa salad, a mix of soy, ginger and honey (£7.50). Hallsworth’s food is excellent and exciting, and manages to be innovative without straying too far from the beaten – you wouldn’t find his tuna sashimi pizza (£9.50) at Nobu, or his wagyu beef sliders (£19).

A lot of thought has gone into creating a social vibe. A busy open kitchen and bar look out onto long sharing tables with high stools in the main area, and more intimate booths at the back. And here’s where the location choice is genius. Kurobuta offers something sorely lacking elsewhere in the area. Alcohol. Most of the Lebanese restaurants nearby are dry, but Kurobuta takes its drink almost as seriously as its food with a fine cocktail and sake menu. We had the Green Bastard – cucumber and gin. So good we ordered it twice.

The relaxed vibe works well with the food but the service suffers. Young and gorgeous they didn’t always know their stuff, and felt a bit Abercrombie and Fitch meets surfer. When we asked for wine recommendations we were told ‘don’t know, I’m not really into wine’. Or for a dessert recommendation, ‘couldn’t say but the pastry chef is insane!’ To most of our questions the answer was ‘I’ll go and ask’. Only half came back. It’s not a deal breaker but a noticeable departure from an otherwise excellent experience. And by the way, the dessert was indeed insanely good. I’ll be back.

by Vicky Paterson

17-20 Kendal Street 
Marble Arch, London, W2 2AW

Tel: 0203 475 4158

Email: info@kurobuta-london.com




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