Kurobuta has been getting a lot of press lately - well, at least enough that my in-laws sweetly clipped a review in a newspaper about it and suggested me & my husband might like to go! It was a great review from Matthew Norman who was a fan of all but what he considered slightly over-excited service. Being an American I am more than at home engaging in chirpy banter with be-flaired waitstaff, and I knew that a professional British restaurant critic's perception of chipper would be no match for my lifetime of Applebee's dining back home. You want to talk about how cheesy your pizzas are? I can hang. You want to pretend to be interested in my day before I arrived here? Sure thing, I got all night.
Anyway, we love Japanese food, particularly menu items other than sushi, so after looking at the choices & checking out a couple more randomly selected reviews, we went on our anniversary!
The menu is described by many as 'Japanese tapas' - or as I like to call it, Japanese sharing plates. Either way, it's your classic set-up where you order about 3 dishes between yourselves and share. There was also a very nice cocktail & sake menu.
I ordered the sake caipirinha with citrus fruits & sake, unsurprisingly, and we shared some very good quality sake solo. Hey, it was our anniversary. I was also very interested by a matcha latte cocktail - but I just didn't have the room in me to get it after all of our food, and I know from experience that creamy cocktails & food do not work in tandem for me. I'll have to try it next time though - matcha lattes are one of my favorite drinks, and it sounded lovely.
Our first course was Yellowtail Sashimi, which was served with a lovely & punchy yuzu soy sauce, and in the center there was something which had the texture of thinly sliced onion, and a herbal, onion-y taste. It reminded me of the more subtle flavor of a spring onion, but had the texture of something a lot more dense but thinly sliced. Look, I'm no vegetable expert, but I did like it. The sashimi was high quality, fatty & delicately flavorsome as it should be. It was nicely highlighted by the citrussy sauce.
Our next bit of food was one I really fought to get - baby shrimp tempura with spicy mayo. I really like tempura, how the batter is a bit crispier and a lot lighter than any other variety of batter, and I'm a fan of shrimp. Now, what the hell a baby shrimp is, I don't know - these did just seem to be regular English-size prawns to me. That's just poor nutrition - not being a baby, right? Either way, they were as tasty & light as the best tempura I've had elsewhere, and the mayo-based sauce went well enough, but did sort of overwhelm the taste of the shrimp & batter. I'd probably say it could stand to be a bit less creamy & heavy on the mayo - more of a light sauce. That's just me looking for something to criticize. Again it was served with a mysterious, perhaps julienned vegetable matter that had a oddly porous & dry texture, and little taste. This was nice with the spicy mayo, though!
We also had another fried item at the same time, which came with two dips, one very similar to the baby shrimp tempura. The spicy mayo went nicely with these though, and the other dip was a pungent & sour/sweet sauce that was even better with something salty and crispy. The tempura actually went better with this accompanying dip than the spicy mayo!
The soba-ko sweet potato fries are lovely and one of the better deals on the menu, with a big portion for 2 just costing £4, If you like your fries crispy & not at all 'doughy' or fluffy potato-filled, these are perfect. Seasoned nicely with a bit of salt & something slightly tangy, they were very nice without dips, too. As far as the soba-ko goes, well, soba is noodles, and ko apparently means child...So not 100 percent sure, but I'd almost guess that maybe some soba batter is included in the fry? I'd love to know, as they're very tasty with an extra-crispy coating. Highly recommended!
This was the only true disappointment of the night, and when you've ordered this many courses and small plates it stands to reason they won't all be winners for every person. The 'junk food Japan' section of course caught our eye, and there is plenty more on there I'd still like to try like the sashimi pizza & miso grilled hot wings, but the thing I was most excited for from this part of the menu was the Wagyu beef sliders. With the promise of steamed buns (I've been chattering on about putting a cheeseburger inside a steamed bun since my review of Flesh & Buns) with traditional burger ingredients and the use of highly coveted Wagyu beef, I was terribly into it.
While yes, that was presumably a pillow-y soft steamed bun at some point, it had been grilled or otherwise manipulated into something that was actually pretty similar to a traditional burger bun. Not revelatory in texture as I hoped, but I figured the taste was going to make up for the slight disappointment in not seeing my dream softy-cloud burger come into existence. Unfortunately, it while the beef did have a strong beef flavor & a sweeter taste that did indeed seem 'special', I think it was completely masked by the onions & pickles.
I love onions & pickles, but their inclusion here kinda brought the tone down a little too much for such a special variety of beef...in my opinion. I mean, you put pickles & onions on a sub-par burger and you bring it up a couple notches, but you put them on what should be a delicious burger and it just kinda taste like that 'improved' burger, ya know? They're strong flavors, and the beef was delicate and I wanted to appreciate it more, but I couldn't. While they weren't bad, this was the one menu item I felt let down by - and at £20 for the two of them, being slider sized, it really felt a bit like a rip. I'm willing to pay silly prices for things that taste good and are well thought out, but this sort of felt like the burger that gets non-adventurous partners to agree to come to the restaurant. What I'd do is get rid of all the burger trappings and maybe go for a 'Wagyu Hamburg Steak', something I just made up. In Japan they eat something called Hamburg Steak which is similar to American Salisbury Steak - it would be a true classing-up of Japanese junk food to serve a Wagyu version! With a bit of beef gravy & mashed potato, I think that would be a better way to serve this beef. Again, not bad food at all, but disappointing considering what I expected. To be fair, this is also my only experience with Wagyu beef. Perhaps that's about all it's meant to be?
Now, from a bit of a 'meh' to something that grabbed me by my lapels and screamed "GET ANOTHER ORDER OF ME, YA FREAK", these pork belly buns were unreal, tumbling in after the sliders. The sauce is an ambrosial 'spicy peanut soy', which is three of my favorite words. The pork belly was fatty fat fat, melting and sweetly succulent, and the buns themselves were the perfect soft & steamy clouds, opening like a gracious angel's hands to reveal meat & sauce. There's a bit of vegetable in there too, to add color & crunch to offset the otherwise incredibly soft portion. Seriously, that sauce was amazing - like a more savoury satay without any of the cloying creamy sweetness of those. Chopped peanuts, spicy soy & pork belly. One of the greats - and I love pork belly buns and judge them harshly. If you like steamed buns, these are a must-get. If you don't like steamed buns, eat one of these and then look me in the eye and tell me you still feel the same way.
Good place to end, huh? Well it didn't stop there. You may be thinking, 'CreamySteaks, close with a big finish - why didn't you put these at the end?' Because I'm nothing if not honest about the timing of my courses.
This was the beer-grilled beef fillet with wasabi salsa. The salsa was a nice addition, piquant against the light taste of a fillet. The beer grilling, well, I'm no beer expert but I suppose it did remind me of the taste of a barley-based soup! That must mean something. To be honest, I really enjoyed this one as did my husband, but I think since it came after the pork belly neither of us could really remember much about it. Whoops.
This was our dessert - it was very lovely but again, I have hard time recollecting exact details. It was a matcha mousse or marshmallow, I believe, with a spongy texture - some matcha cream dollops, some sort of I believe yuzu jelly, sesame crisp cookies that were very nice, and...two matcha sugar-coated doughnuts, that were filled with...matcha cream, I'm pretty sure. Again, very tasty, but I've forgotten most details so it isn't terribly fair to really 'review' it. Except for to say that I remember thinking it was a very nice way to finish off a heavy meal, as it was fairly light & gentle.
Over all, Kurobuta was a great place to spend our anniversary. The service was friendly & polite, and certainly didn't seem over-eager to me, which was what I was expecting given the review I had read before. Just friendly staff, not a lot of unrequited banter or suggestions. I would say don't come here if you want a quick meal before anything important, as it was a bit on the slow side, but this was good for us because we wanted to indulge and have a casual & laid back evening. I'd go back to try a few more things on the menu, and I'd definitely reorder the pork belly buns & the soba-ko fries.