First of all, let’s get things clear. This is not Kurobuta, which is a new ‘Japanese pub’ from the former head chef of Nobu, due to open near Marble Arch in late December. This is a pop-up which the team has launched as a preview of what to expect, and is due to run in its site on Kings Road until the end of the year.
For all that this may be a pop-up, it is — to all intents and purposes — a proper restaurant in a proper restaurant site. The atmosphere is buzzy with close tables, and all the requisite bare wood and hanging lights that come with an on-trend spot. A bit of quirk is added in the form of Japanese books, posters and newspaper clippings which adorn the otherwise stark walls, but it’s on the menu that things get really creative.
Fried baby squid — tender, with a crisp bite — coated in Japanese spices and served with a tangy jalapeno dipping sauce is a particularly bold but successful option; tea-smoked lamb served blistering and smoky, just medium-rare is what Japanese cavemen would have craved; and BBQ pork belly served in fluffy, steamed buns benefits from a curious but delicious sticky, soy reduction ‘dip’ that’s full of roasted peanuts and almost dry.
With Kurobuta promising to be a pub, it’s natural that the food is more informal and hearty than you’d expect at many a Japanese establishment. While this has its plus points, sushi is no place for slapdashery. Soft shell crab tempura maki has all the charm of a dirty fried food snack, but none of the refinement that we’d expect from its sushi counterpart: it’s slightly greasy and impossible to eat without it falling apart. Gravlax maki are fresh and zesty, but the salmon is overwhelmed with a dill-infused mayonnaise to the point of being lost. Yellow Tail sashimi is in itself delicate and delicious but drowned in far too much soy dressing.
This isn’t food to be admired as art or cooed over, but rather food to enjoy with gusto. And at healthy enough prices (at least considering what you’re eating) there’s no need to hold back. Everything is presented as small plates for sharing (most hover somewhere around a tenner), with five dishes per two people recommended. There’s also a decent list of sake, should that be your thing.
Upon leaving, we heard a table of Chelsea locals discuss how glad they were that Kurobuta had opened on their doorstep as they previously had to head into Mayfair to get a decent Japanese, and how sad they were that it was only temporary. Our hearts bleed. But there might be some good news for them, as our waiter spoke of his hope that this Kings Road Kurobuta could become permanent and we can’t help but think he had a hunch about things.
Kurobuta is at 251 Kings Road, SW6 2EB and runs until the year (at least). Visit their website for details of this pop-up and the soon-to-arrive real deal.
Disclaimer: We review anonymously and pay for all our meals/drinks.