I left the decision of where to eat on my birthday till a few days before. Twitter friends kindly helped me create a shortlist of fabulous options but in the end I remembered my longstanding desire to visit Scott Hallsworth’s Kurobuta Izakaya to try his small plate menu of inventive, modern Japanese food.
True to the nature of an izakaya (most commonly loosely translated as a pub), Kurobuta (which itself is the name for prized black pig breeds in Japan) is a casual environment with a relaxed and friendly vibe and friendly service.
The food is a step above casual, however; it shows enormous attention to detail, creative flavour and texture combinations, beautiful presentations and an appealingly wide range of choices.
Fresh ginger-ade was punchy and balanced. My sake choice matched the menu description exactly and was light and delicate.
Guided by the cheerful Sam, we initially chose 6 dishes between two of us, adding one more savoury and a dessert to our meal later.
Baby Shrimp Tempura with Spicy Mayo and Warm Ponzu Dipping Sauces (£10)
Superb quality prawns in a perfectly crisp batter – albeit a thicker one that I’d usually describe as tempura – these were served hot out of the fryer, with a simple spiced mayonnaise and thin ribbons of onion. Pete usually refuses to eat prawns but was persuaded by the unusually soft texture. An excellent start!
Miso Grilled Baby Chicken with Spicy Lemon Garlic Sauce (£12)
Moist pieces of chicken. A good balance between sweet sticky marinade and a little acidity from the lemony sauce.
Roasted Scallop with Yuzu Truffle Egg sauce and Yuzu Tobiko (£12)
A lovely combination of tastes and textures; large plum scallops, very fresh and cooked just right, with a beautifully rich sauce – essentially a Hollandaise made with yuzu in place of lemon; garnishes carefully chosen to add more complexity of texture.
Beer Grilled Beef Fillet with Wasabi Salsa (£17)
This was the most expensive dish we ordered; I would probably have hesitated had it not been a celebratory occasion. But I’m so glad we did – a generous pile of very tender and perfectly cooked beef with enoki mushrooms and a real kick to the sauce and salsa.
Nasu Dengaku; Sticky Miso Grilled Aubergine with Candied Walnuts (£8.50)
I adore nasu dengaku and this rendition didn’t disappoint. I missed the added texture of the skin, though that was cleverly replaced with the sweet, sticky, crunchy candied walnuts atop each cube of aubergine. The flesh was beautifully cooked to bring out the natural flavour, and enhanced by a beautiful miso marinade.
Spicy Tuna Maki Rolled in Tempura Crunchies (£8.50)
There was nothing wrong with this dish; I enjoyed it well enough and particularly liked the subtle added crunch of the tempura batter stuck to the surfaces. But it was far more ordinary than everything else we ordered, and was the one dish I wouldn’t order again.
Japanese Mushrooms Grilled on Hoba Leaf with Gorgonzola, Miso and Pinenuts (£9.75)
If you’re an umami addict, this dish cannot be beaten. The combination of mushrooms, miso, creamy melted blue cheese and pinenuts was a revelation and I have been dreaming about this one dish more than any other, in the week since we visited. Magical!
Spiced kombu compressed pineapple, coconut & lemongrass sorbet, caramel, lemon sponge, crumble (£8.50)
A new dessert on the menu, designed by Filip Gemzell, Kurobuta’s executive pastry chef, this is another highly unusual but beautifully balanced dish with lots of flavours and textures to explore. Gemzell kindly gave me additional information about the amazing pineapple – he compresses it in kombu, green chilli, red pepper, lemongrass, Szechuan pepper, vanilla, salt and sugar. About the other wow element on the plate, the coconut and lemon grass sorbet, he was more cagey but it’s such a light, refreshing and delightful combination, I’m going to have a go at recreating it myself. And yes, that’s a birthday candle they snuck on for me too!
The key word that pervades the entire menu is ’balance’ of elements, flavours, textures. Ingredients are consistently high quality, the menu is imaginative, each dish is exciting to eye and palate and service is friendly, smooth and focused on ensuring that all customers enjoy a wonderful meal.
Kurobuta is one of six Japanese restaurants participating in Japanese Journey, an experience organised by Suntory Whisky and the 2014 London Restaurant Festival, whereby diners make their way between the six restaurants and enjoy a Suntory whisky highball and a dish or selection plate at each. Pete and I were invited to preview half the journey at Sticks n Sushi, Shoryu and Chisou Mayfair. Check out photos from our evening on my Instagram page.