Saturday, 31 January 2015

Kurobuta Marble Arch: let's do the time warp

Kurobuta: wagyu sliders £19
Do you remember the late 80s? In Tokyo? No? It's pretty vague for me too, but if you take my hand and come with me to Kurobuta in Marble Arch, you'll time warp to find Aussie chef Scott Hallsworth recreating the excesses of the rampant consumerism of the bubble economy in the ludicrous ambitious pricing of his Japanese-ish restaurant. You'll find pricing as lofty as those Tokyo apartments (pre crash obvs) and nouvelle-ish portion sizing presented by fresh-from-Sydney staff. The space is pretty relaxed with a mash up of Aussie culture in the music (early 90s indie-punk Ratcat?) and the posters (umm, Warwick Capper, anyone? Bueller?). The food though is actually pretty good and in some cases excellent, but I couldn't really get past the pricing. I mean, a can of Old Jamaica ginger beer that you can pick up at the Kwik-E-Mart for 50p costs £4.50 at Kurobuta. The mark up is astonishing and lingers longer than a gulp of that ginger beer. Clearly, there's a reason why Kurobuta has locations in Chelsea and Marble Arch and not further east: it's aimed directly at the moneyed classes. In Marble Arch I was surrounded by lots of very real fur trim on the winter coats of plucked mothers plus their undisciplined whining children. In Chelsea I'm sure there's more than a fleeting pair of red trousers. If that's your thing, I'm sure you'll have a great time at Kurobuta. For me, it'll take a generous benefactor emulating the feted (or hated) 80s to make me return.

I mentioned the food was good, and it generally is. Our friendly Aussie waiter, Seano, suggested six courses for lunch since we weren't hugely hungry. We ended up ordering seven, but weren't stuffed by the time we left. Seano was helpful throughout and I appreciated the staggered serving of dishes rather than the usual serve-when-it's-ready style to most "tapas" places (Seano's words, not mine). 
Kurobuta: hijiki salad
The hijiki salad (just ignore the arsenic warnings), was nicely textured and not thirst inducingly salty like they sometimes can be. The small bowl was £6.50. Pumpkin tempura with pickled pumpkin and "creamy spicy shiso dressing", was light, sweet and moreish. Six bites for £6.50 seemed a bit toppy though, especially compared to the huge bowl of dressing that we hardly dented despite repeated dunkings.
Kurobuta: pumpkin tempura
I wanted to try the "BBQ pork belly in steamed buns with spicy peanut soy" (hirata buns) to see how they compare to others I've eaten around London and those that I sometimes make at home. They were top notch with juicy pork and soft buns, which had been torched for some reason. Seano advised opening up the buns and stuffing as much spicy peanut soy into the middle before eating. The sauce was more sweet and caramel in flavour than spicy though, and I would have loved a squirt of sriracha to give it a bit more zing. It was £13 for these two. Just so you know, Ippudo charge £3 a piece, albeit in a more stripped back fashion. The ever popular Bao sell for around £3.50.
Kurobuta: BBQ pork buns with spicy peanut soy
Even though I raised an eyebrow and my eyes watered at the pricing of the wagyu sliders (steamed bun, crunchy onions, pickled cucumber, umami mayo), I'm a sucker for a little burger and these sounded good coming from the Junk Food Japan section of the menu. The patty was smaller than I expected but was wagyu-juicy even with a gristly chunk in mine. The onion ring had been tempura fried which was a fun touch. The fluffy steamed bun had been torched, but I'm not exactly sure why. I guess for £19 for two, you have to do something cheffy.

The best dish of lunch was probably the aubergine "Nasu Dengaku; Sticky Miso Grilled Aubergine with Candied Walnut". For the more bargainous price of £8.50, the aubergine (and frankly with the pedigree of the place it should be called eggplant) was well cooked with none of the fibrous chewiness that under cooking can leave you with. The crunchy textures from the walnuts were a nice touch. "How'd that go down?" the waitress (not Seano) asked. Very well indeed was the reply.
Kurobuta: nasu dengaku
We decided to try some sushi, so went with Diver Scallop with Ginger and Black Bean. The two morsels were £8. The kitchen obviously loves its flame thrower because the scallop was torched (see wagyu slider and hirata buns above), as was some of the rice. If you look closely, the scallop appears dry either from the flame, or from sitting out a bit too long, but was actually pretty juicy and sweet. I thought the black bean may overwhelm, but it was actually a good match. The pickled ginger mound was bigger than the nigiri however.
Kurobuta: diver scallop with ginger and black bean sushi
Thankfully, the spicy tuna maki escaped the flame and hit the right spicy notes that I wish were in the pork buns. The rice was pretty well cooked, as you'd hope for a dish priced at £8.50.
Kurobuta: spicy tuna maki
Lunch for the two of us, with no booze, came to £95 which is frankly way overpriced. I mentioned the price of the ginger beer in the opening but a limeade - you know, a squeeze of lime, some sugar and soda water - was a fiver. I've laboured the point, but seriously, I don't think it can go uncommented. Still, the food is generally enjoyable, but just not worth the asking price given the laid back style. I'm afraid I'll be jumping to the left, stepping to the right, putting my hands on my hips and walking past Kurobuta in future.

Kurobuta on Urbanspoon Square Meal

4 comments:

  1. I think because we visited for my birthday, we were less distressed by the prices - but I'd known about them upfront and we were in the mindset of it being a special occasion splurge. I agree that the portions are small for the price, and a lot of that must surely be because the local clientele at both addresses will, frankly, not bat an eyelid. Price for what your market can bear, I guess. It does mean we're less likely to return on a regular basis, because there are many fabulously reasonable options in London. But some of the dishes were so good -- my favourites including that nasu dengaku and a phenomenal mushrooms, gorgonzola, pinenuts miso combination -- that I will certainly go back at some point.

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    1. I think it was the little things like the pricing of the drinks that really annoyed me Kavey. It's definitely a factor of location as you say which is fair enough but while I liked what I ate, there's nothing that I would go back for (altho those mushrooms sound good!). Glad I tried it though - I liked the nostalgia of the Aussie touches

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    2. I didn't even pick up on the Aussie vibes!

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