Rather like finding a holiday that suits a lethargic one, an adventurous one, a sun-worshipping one and someone who prefers to stay indoors at all times, finding a restaurant to accommodate a vegetarian, a meat lover, a gargantuan appetite and a faddy eater ain't easy. I know, because I'm describing my family.
We need a family meeting in which to discuss the arrival, naming and care rota for a puppy we have somewhat unexpectedly taken on (long story). Teens can be coaxed out of their rooms by the right kind of food (rather like a puppy, I suppose), but say the wrong thing – anything that's not "burgers", "Japanese" or "roast" – and the door remains firmly shut.
To Kurobuta, then, a Japanese restaurant that has burgers, pork belly and interesting salads on the menu. Chef/patron Scott Hallsworth is one of that "rock god" breed, inspiring a slavish following and headlines (in the food world) for whatever he does. I'm all for chefs having the same status as star musicians – not least because on the whole they don't allow themselves self-indulgent noodling when you go to see them.
But Hallsworth – who created Kurobuta as a pop-up in London's Chelsea after training at Nobu, among other places – has certainly indulged something. Luckily, it's his imagination. I'd lured my son with the promise of burgers, and the Wagyu-beef sliders in a steamed bun with crunchy onions, pickled cucumber and umami mayo sounds like a score – two of 'em, for £19.
It's practically the first dish to the table; our Aussie waitress has advised about 11 dishes for the four of us, although the menu doesn't read (and isn't priced) like a sharing menu. On the plus side, from the tiny nibble I have, they're very good. On the minus side, they're bloody tiny. I know sliders are small, but for 19 quid I'd expect more than four bites.
This will become a bit of a recurring theme. But first, the room. It's simply tricked out, with those filamenty light things, pointy tables and an open kitchen. Plate-glass windows look out over the entirely soulless environs of "Connaught Village". It's not near the Connaught (more's the pity) and it's certainly no village (Tony Blair lives round the corner). All you really need to know is that it's very close to Marble Arch, which makes it a brilliant pit-stop for anyone visiting the West End (The Lockhart, the other side of grisly Edgware Road, is similarly a hidden gem.) But be warned if you are looking for somewhere to refuel and rest up after a shopping frenzy: Kurobuta is expensive. The four of us quickly rack up £200 and that's before a couple of carafes of Autumn Leaves sake and two mocktails for Miss T.
However, it is almost uniformly delicious. The stand-outs are tea-smoked lamb with smoky nasu (aubergine) and spicy Korean miso (£15.50 for two modest chops, ouch) – tender meat with a tongue-tingling glaze. BBQ pork belly in steamed buns with spicy peanut soy (two palm-sized buns, £13) is all the bad stuff made good – fatty, chewy, pillowy and salty. The sauce is a tad too treacly but the soft buns folded over the meat, with scorchio red onion and green chillis pinned into place, are ace.
Baby-shrimp tempura with kimchee and mayo (£10) I could eat all day. Crisp, light batter, corkscrews of puffed-up daikon, more of that chilli and a spice-spiked sauce all showcase the sweet meat. This is a better-value dish, like its cousin, black-pepper soft-shell crab tempura (£9.50). And Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu dip (£7) is lovely – four crunchy cylinders, with a sauce that manages to be both rich and zingy.
The menu's daft headings – junk food Japan, something crunchy, significant others – give no guide as to what's big or small. I could live without a grains and greens salad with honey soy ginger dressing that tastes like a pot from M&S (so, perfectly nice); while crispy-skin duck confit with watermelon, daikon pickle and – again – spicy peanut soy (£14) is actively nasty: the meat is grey, neither perky nor melty enough to warrant attention.
But Hallsworth's wilder-shores-of-the-Pacific idea is absolutely worth a visit. If some of the sauces are too reduced, hot or salty for my taste, that's not to say they're bad. It's fun food – on that, the whole family agree. Shame we argue all night about a name for the dog…
Kurobuta, 17-20 Kendal Street, London W2,
Tel: 0203 475 4158
£250 for four, with drinks
Four more: Foodie notes from the past week
Paid extra for table and breakfast on the early train to Manchester. Shouldn't have bothered: anaemic bacon, watery coffee.
M&S confetti slaw
Daft name, but this from the deli counter is my new lunch obsession: crisp and packed with flavour once the chill lime dressing is in.
British Street food awards
Today I have the happy task of judging Britain's best at the BSFA in Leeds. Come by if you're in the area; you won't go hungry!
Our gorgeous new rescue puppy finally got a name. Most food-based names vetoed (why not Sausage?). She's from Greece, so…Reuse content