Scott Hallsworth's new West London restaurant offers a sophisticated and delicious take on the traditionally rowdy Japanese izakaya
With its mix of Georgian squares, high-rise apartments and gussied-up council stock from the ‘80s, Connaught Village is a fittingly eclectic spot for Scott Hallsworth’s particular brand of upscale fusion grub. “A well-boozed, small-plates-to-share-type party,” says the Australian chef and restaurateur, when we ask him what to expect from his new west London restaurant Kurobuta. As likely to be found wearing a Pixies tee as he is his chef whites, Hallsworth is bringing his own brand of jocular charm to the table.
Based on the Japanese izakaya, a type of after-work, beer-soaked bar that serves sharing plates, Kurobuta also has an extensive cocktail menu and dishes up some pretty far-out flavour combinations. Having started life last year as a pop-up on the King’s Road, Hallsworth and co recently moved Kurobuta to near Marble Arch – a similarly unexpected locale, one could say – to set up permanent digs. “It’s not a stupidly obvious location” he explains, “nor is it too far off the beaten track.” While their first venture has become a stable fixture as well, this new one – set in what resembles a former council-estate pub, around the corner from Tony Blair’s house – is the mothership.
"Kurobuta is 'a well-boozed, small-plates-to-share-type party'” — Scott Hallsworth
And so it seems that the former Prime Minister and his neighbours are in for a treat. Though not, like many izakaya, an all-out Japanese beer fest with blaring loud rock music, Kurobuta is upbeat and an easy place to unwind. One of the most popular dishes, the nasu dengaku – sticky miso-grilled aubergine with candied walnuts – comes out steaming hot and offers a balance of creamy and salty, touched with a delicate sweetness. Another dish, the tea-smoked lamb with smoky nasu and spicy Korean miso, imparts a lightly aromatic savouriness. Sushi, such as the shirashi maki, have an impressive list of ingredients – in this case yellowtail, salmon, tuna, avocado and shiso leaf, topped with yuzu and tamari mayonnaise – and these bite-sized rolls are full of complimenting flavours and textures. But the most exciting find is the pumpkin tempura with pickled pumpkin and creamy spicy shiso dip. It’s everything that tempura should be, and almost never is: light and crispy with a vegetable centre that is firm yet yielding. The batter is made with “a secret weapon by way of a special wheat extract,” Hallsworth says, and the tangy sauce was so good we kept it on the table the whole meal. Dessert, a jelly doughnut pistachio parfait, was pleasing but slightly bizarre, resembling a Bauhaus garden more than a circular, deep-fried delight.
The Green Bastard cocktail is a refreshing combination of Hendrick’s gin with fresh cucumber and Midori (a Japanese sweet muskmelon liquor), while the Hard Core Breakfast Martini packs a bitter punch with gin, Cointreau and marmalade. Kurobuta also regularly stocks guest sakes, chosen by expert Ollie Hilton-Johnson, whom Hallsworth says “lives, breathes and bathes in sake”. He adds that the artisanal blends they get in “all have pronounceable names and sick artwork to boot.” On our visit the fermented-rice visitor was Orange Blossom, and it was cleaner, fresher and far more drinkable than the cloying stuff you usually find outside of Japan.
We would argue in favour of a shorter menu (both for food and cocktails) to help with navigation, but this excess seems to stem from a desire to experiment rather than a nervous need to cover bases. On the way out we spot the Kurobuta ‘tour’ T-shirts for sale, with its list of all the festivals and other spots they’ve previously popped-up. We’re glad to see they’ve settled in such a convivial manner.
What we loved about Kurobuta: The twilight location; the longhaired Japanese rockers drinking beer at the next table; the promise of estate pub ghosts.
Kurobuta Marble Arch is at 17-20 Kendal Street, W2 2AW.
Text by Ananda Pellerin