Exuberant Australian chef Scott Hallsworth, previously of acclaimed Japanese restaurant Nobu, set up Kurobuta in London to introduce the capital to the Izakaya. Izakayas, traditionally, are down-to-earth Japanese drinking dens where hidden food treasures can be discovered. With Scott’s vision at the forefront of each Kurobuta (Chelsea, Marble Arch and Harvey Nichols), the restaurant has an attractive USP – a Hard Rock-esque vibe with cool music and zesty service blended with Japanese dishes.
For those who have visited Harvey Nichols’ 5th floor, you will know that the area is bright and airy. This, as a backdrop for Kurobuta (which has a typically underground feel) raises some skepticism. However, with neon lights and a pair of smiling faces guiding you in, you are led into a surprisingly large space fully dedicated to Kurobuta and its gritty-yet-sultry atmosphere and dim lighting. Bottles of sake are dotted about the place – on the walls and on top of the indigo-hued bar, and casually-dressed diners chit chat over the sound of rock’n’roll music.
There’s much to say about the service at Kurobuta. The (rather young and likely Australian) waiters and waitresses speak to you like friends, kneeling down to chat as you order, and going into detail about the extensive options and their personal favourites. You almost forget that they’ve probably been intensely trained to remember the names of all the Japanese ingredients!
Kurobuta takes cocktails, beer and sake very seriously. Dismissing wine with rather limited options, the focus here is on flavour, fizz and liquor. For a blast from the past, opt for the Violet Femme, reminiscent of parma violet sweets with its flowery allure. The best advice? Consult with your waiter friend, order a variety of cocktails (one after the other) and conduct a taste test to find your favourite.
This is where the struggle begins. Whittling down the number of dishes to order is no easy feat, however there are a few must-tries. Dining is not delicate like in the Japanese restaurants London had seen pre-Kurobuta, it is bold with sticky, sweet miso, and tangy and sharp with yuzu. Firstly, it must be noted that vegetarian dishes are prone to being massively overlooked by all the carnivores out there; this mustn’t be done at Kurobuta, as the crunchy kale salad is definitely worth a try, lovingly topped with cashew nuts and sesame ponzu. The tuna sashimi pizza, one of Hallsworth’s ‘Junk Food Japan’ dishes, is one of those things that you order and have no idea what to expect when it gets to your table. What arrives is soft and delicious sashimi folded on top of crispy, fried flatbreads and further topped with truffle ponzu sauce and wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe). For meat lovers, either the generous potion of beef fillet tataki with onion ponzu and garlic crisps, or the Wagyu sliders will not disappoint. The creamy roasted scallops are enough to tempt a pescatarian-turned-vegetarian (we’ve seen it happen!) and the nasu dengaku, always served towards the end of your meal due to its sticky sweetness, are hot, succulent chunks of aubergine drenched in miso.
Just when you think you can’t eat another bite, the desserts make you change your mind. We recommend the lavender apple pie. It is a blend of floral, sweet and crumbly; the fragrant crème brûlée is accompanied by fluffy apple pie foam, cinnamon ice cream, shortbread and apple crisps, all adding textural variation to the dessert.
Kurobuta, like its founder, is the epitome of cool. It’s for those who appreciate great food but cannot stand stuffiness and ridiculously small portions. The Harvey Nichols branch has managed to identify itself as a separate entity from the rest of the 5th floor. However, you are hit with a dose of reality when popping to the loo mid-meal, as the bathrooms are located near the lifts. Despite this, the food, cocktails, and atmosphere are a real treat for lovers of mindfully-executed, bold Japanese cuisine.
By Ashiana Pradhan