Don’t let the location fool you. Styled after an izakaya (the Japanese version of a gastropub), Kurobuta is a casual respite from the posh streets of Knightsbridge. While I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to my sushi, I am always up for a good fusion experience that does away with the more formal elements of Japanese dining.
Started as a pop-up on the King’s Road, Kurobuta has expanded to three permanent locations with Scott Hallsworth (former Head Chef at Nobu) at the helm. I visited Harvey Nichols to check out the newest outpost, nestled in a corner of the luxury retailer’s fifth floor food court.
In stark contrast to its neighbour (the conveyor-belt chain Yo Sushi!), this inspired space oozes personal touches such as wine crates repurposed as sake shelves and indie band posters hanging from wooden pallet displays. There’s even a photobooth, where guests can commemorate their visit with Kurobuta-branded photostrips to take home (and share on social media). It’s a hipster’s wet dream.
With denim-clad servers setting the tone, the dress code is low-key but fashionable. In other words, there were more women in flats than heels (my wedges being a practical compromise). It’s always a good sign to see actual Asian people at an Asian establishment and there were at least four other parties of Asian descent amidst the young professionals, shoppers, and couples.
With ample space between tables and dim illumination from Christmas lights, Kurobuta is both intimate enough for a date and informal enough to bring children (though none were present during my visit). Despite plenty of available seats on this Wednesday evening, the conversation was bouncing off the wall.
We started with an addictive round of skinny Sweet Potato and Soba-Ko Fries accompanied by jalapeño dip and kimchee mayo (the latter was my sauce preference). Next was a course of Yellowtail Sashimi with Kizami Wasabi Salsa, featuring top-notch hamachi and a frightening quantity of yuzu-soy sauce, which sadly overpowered the dish. The Tuna Sashimi Pizza with Truffle Ponzu & Wasabi Tobiko came served on wonton chips, which offered a flaky crunch in contrast to the firm tuna. Essentially a nacho version of sushi, this was finger food at its finest.
The BBQ Pork Belly Buns, Kurobuta’s take on Taiwanese “gua bao”, offers an interesting alternative to the explicitly Japanese items on the menu. The smoky bun complements the tender meat, though the cucumber and red onion relish doesn’t quite go with the peanut hoisin sauce.
Perfectly crisp yet not particularly memorable, the Baby Shrimp Tempura would be better if paired with a citrus-y ponzu sauce in place of the kimchee mayo.
The diver scallop sushi came with a smear of black bean and ginger sauce, which was an unnecessary addition to otherwise tender scallop. Overall, Kurobuta seemed to suffer from a case of trying too hard. By this point in the meal, my tongue already felt exhausted. While some flavor combinations were successful, others overwhelmed the otherwise excellent ingredients.
The Nasu Dengaku (miso-grilled aubergine) came in caramelized bite-sized pieces. The rich consistency and candied walnut pieces reminded me of a savory banana bread pudding, though the dish was oilier than the other versions I’ve tried.
Presented aflame upon a layer of lemons, the Salmon, Yellowtail, Unagi Flamed Maki was by far the best item. The rum flavor is barely detectable and the cucumber roll beneath the layers of fish offered a nice contrasting crunch. Finally, here I felt the fish was being allowed to speak for itself.
For dessert, the mochi ice cream is a reliable standby for those with modest appetites, but the real gem was the honey ice cream topped with tart raspberries, toffee-like honeycomb, and spongy pistachio cake.
This being tapas, I recommend three dishes to get full and a larger party to ensure that you try the varied options (with the Robata Grill and “Significant Others” section of the menu offering heartier choices). The presentation was consistently thoughtful and the best dishes were the simplest, where flavors were not in competition to outdo one another.
Despite the clear emphasis on drinks, Kurobuta impressed me with its tea offerings, from which I selected the Bonsai scorched rice tea (a combination of genmaicha and matcha).
Ample cocktail options and sake abounded, though if you’re ordering grill items or tempura-heavy dishes, I suggest a cold beer to wash it all down. For the enthusiastic drinker, Happy Hour specials run all night on “Tight Ass Tuesdays”, when £28 gets you six courses off the “Feed Me” menu.
In a nutshell
Kurobuta serves up Japanese-inspired food that prioritises comfort without compromising on style (much like the space). I salute the chef’s ambition, even though I found the execution lacking at times. For traditionalists like me, expect anglicised versions of izakaya classics and select the simpler dishes with minimal sauces to avoid flavour overload.
With the unpretentious atmosphere and friendly servers, this is the ideal venue for after-work relaxation or a celebratory dinner (there’s a private dining room to accommodate large groups). Start off here for a night out on the town—the bigger the group, the merrier, and all the better to share!