I imagine that Kurobuta, which sits on a quiet, residential road teeming with expensive-looking dogs, has two general managers. One subscribes to Apartment Therapy and plays sommelier at friends’ dinner parties; the other is an ex-car salesman with an obnoxious sense of humour.
The former – we’ll call him Jonathan – takes credit for the beautiful, Izakaya-inspired decor. The latter – his name can be Gazza – is responsible for the cheaply printed menus and the posters in the window advertising a weekday deal known as – brace yourself – ‘Tight Ass Tuesday’. I die.
Rosie had had the foresight to book via OpenTable, which scored us a free bottle of wine. I was persuaded to choose the rosé over the white because a) the white was a chardonnay, and in my experience 96% of all chardonnay is vile, and b) Rosie recognised the brand and vouched that it was in no way like the £3.99 bottles of White Zinfandel that were ultimately responsible for me being sick in a bin at least twice during my formative years. (It was MiP Made in Provence, if you’re interested, and very nice too.)
Jonathan and Gazza’s battle for supremacy continues onto the menu, which is printed in a hideous typeface and presented on a clipboard. Clipboards are, in my opinion, only just acceptable in a ‘dirty’ burger joint. Thoughtful dishes, like flamed edamame with lemon butter, compete with bizarre items like ‘Porky Scratchings’ and fresh salmon sushi with béarnaise salsa (!?) and fries. We maneuvered our way around the menu with only a couple of fuck-ups, but it’s certainly fair to say the food at Kurabuta is decidedly hit and miss.
The hits then: aforementioned edamame (£4.00), which had a gorgeously smoky BBQ finish and a generous slosh of melted sake-infused lemon butter, which would have had us licking our fingers had it not been for the timely arrival of hot cloths. (Thanks Jonathan!)
A craggy, caramel-coloured slab of aubergine, barely able to support its own weight and studded with candied walnuts (£8.50), was one of my favourite dishes. I asked how it was made and apparently it’s deep-fried, soaked in sticky miso and then slow-roasted until the brink of collapse. So now I need to buy a deep-fat fryer.
Octopus doughnuts (£9.00) – because ‘doughnuts’ sound posher than ‘nuggets’ – were bloody fantastic. (Apparently they were the darling of June’s Taste of London festival, so I am not the only one who thinks so.) The bloke manning the fryer certainly knows what he’s doing, as evidenced also by the soft shell crab (£9.50) which emerged from its dressing room in a seductively light, crispy negligee of perfectly rendered tempura batter.
The ‘Junk Food Japan’ section of the menu – bloody cheeky considering some items were ~£20 a go, hardly ‘junk’ food – had a couple of bastardised wagyu items, including a pair of sliders at £16. Wagyu beef is a fabulous, fabulous foodstuff, and does not deserved to be mashed up, slid between a doughy lips of burger bun and adorned with crispy onions. That’s akin to buying a fabulous piece of artwork, taking it home and hanging it in the downstairs lavatory. Upside down. Instead, we chose the Miso Grilled Hot Wings (£6.50), which were plump and meaty and smothered in a violent orange sauce, and generously portioned for the price.
‘Skinny Bitch’ Cali Maki with Snow Crab Avocado Omelette, Yuzu Mayo & Zero Rice (£7.00) tasted even worse than it sounds. (And it sounds pretty bad…I imagine this is Gazza’s doing.) Think undressed salad with a token smear of minced shellfish – perhaps the ‘skinny bitch’ part of the name refers to the snow crab? The poor thing clearly needed more meat on its bones. Rosie actually liked it and ate my half for me, but then she is much skinnier so that may be why. (The jury is still out on who’s the bigger bitch. 😉 Aha, jokes. It’s definitely me.)
Salmon Gravadlax with Avocado Maki and Dill Mayo (£8.50) was not my usual bag but pleasant enough (for the uninitiated, it’s like steak tartare’s fishy sister).
At this point we had an unscheduled interval of approximately one hour while the kitchen whipped up a pair of microscopic lamb chops that reminded me very much of the food I used to feed to the fuzzy residents of my Sylvanian Family dollhouse. The staff, who were actually all very lovely, apologised profusely – apparently the chef had stormed out that morning never to return (!) – and Rosie and I had a lot to chat about, so we didn’t mind too much. We would have minded even less if the lamb had been worth the wait, but it was underwhelming in quality and, at £15.50 for three bites a piece, not very good value.
The dishes that are good are worth going back for, but finding the gems in the menu is like picking your way through a minefield. Our bill was £55 each with a free bottle of wine, so it’s probably best to think of it as a very expensive game of Battleships. Hit, hit, miss.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.