Nicky Richmond finds Kurobata in Marble Arch not quite to her taste.
I tend not to read reviews before I eat somewhere new – I find that I’m swayed. I do want a vague sense of whether it might be snog/marry/avoid, but nothing more.
This is a fairly simple space on the ground floor of a 60s block of flats. Lights in cages, plain tables, harsh acoustics, you know the sort of thing. On the left, some tables and chairs in a conventional layout, on the right, more tables and chairs as well as high long tables, with stools. I presume that they are aimed at those for whom the drink is the thing. A well-oiled group was braying loudly.
I had already asked to move from the centre of a row of tightly-packed tables to a table at the end. I hate to be part of the squeezed middle. I couldn’t have a table one row back from the window as requested, because that would interfere with my sequence said the maître d’. Wha-evs.
Given that the tools on the stools were in full flow, I asked to move again. Try as she might, the maître d’ couldn’t quite hide the rictus grin, as she moved us to the other (quieter) side of the restaurant. She made us carry our drinks because she might not remember which was which. Really? C wasn’t wearing lipstick that evening.
It’s a long menu, a Japanese mash-up with junk food (their description), and Japanese-based/themed dishes. It’s a bit Roka and a bit Flesh and Buns. It comes as no surprise that the (Australian) chef is ex-Nobu.
We started with broad beans, in tempura batter and sweet potato and Soba-ko fries with a kimchi mayo and a Jalapeño pepper sauce. I really liked these thin, stringy, pieces of carbo-crack. And although C already had the face when tasting them, I also liked the tempura broad beans. Just crunchy enough, these were a revelation. Who knew?
Next up, yellowtail sashimi with Kizami wasabi salsa and yuzu-soy, that ubiquitous dish that you get in every Nobu wannabe. It was lovely. Perfectly dressed. And if the meal had ended there, I’d have been happy, if still hungry.
What came next was not to my taste. Grains and greens salad with honey-soy-ginger dressing, the dressing was too sweet and cloying, the ginger overpowering, which, for me, ruined what would otherwise been a good dish. And I love ginger.
The waitress asked if we liked it. I felt that it would be rude to lie. She agreed that it would not be to everyone’s taste and indeed was not to hers. I welcomed her honesty.
To follow, miso-grilled baby chicken with spicy lemon-garlic sauce. Again with the sweet thing. I do not share this chef’s taste for the sweet. A perfectly moist, tasty baby chicken, I feel that it was let down by the heavy-handed seasoning.
BBQ (their spelling) pork belly and steamed buns with spicy peanut soy looked great. The pork was rich and tasty and the steamed buns were soft and delicate. It came with “spicy peanut soy” in a dish. Call me old-fashioned but I thought I might actually be able to dip the pork roll into it. There wasn’t a spoon or anything so I assumed that’s what you were meant to do. The peanuts were suspended in what I believe was molasses – treacly, cloying and very sweet, you couldn’t dip anything into it. Maybe a raw carrot. Or celery. Certainly not a soft roll. I had to try to balance it on my chopsticks and put it on the bun, to see if it worked with the pork belly. It tasted unpleasant. I wouldn’t have given a flying you-know-what about the texture if it had tasted good.There was no real taste of peanut, it was drowned in the sickly-sweet soy. And it is a real shame, because the pork belly was great.
By this time, we were not filled with joyous expectation at the thought of the BBQ Kurobata pork ribs, again with that honey-soy-ginger glaze. The ribs looked good, burnt edges, soft meat, all piled into a crown and I tasted the first one. Delicious. That’s because they’d not put much of that glaze on that particular one. Overly-sweet pickled ginger, smeared over what would have been very decent ribs meant that we left half.
I am in two minds as to whether to admit to you that it is only when I went onto the restaurant’s website on the interweb that I see we didn’t turn over the menu.
In my defence (clutching at straws) the design of the menu gave no indication that it was on two sides. The waitress said nothing when we ordered only from the one side. The menu was not explained. Yes, I do feel like a moron. I come clean so that you don’t make the same mistake.
We missed out a whole section of other things – sushi, maki and what they call “Significant Others”. It may be that the sushi and some of those significant others are wonderful, with subtle and proper flavouring, but I suspect that I will never know.
If I want Japanese fusion, I’ll stick to Dinings,just up the road but a million miles away in terms of subtlety.
N.B. It’s a 12.5 per cent service charge. The bill doesn’t specify.
Scores on the doors
Value for money 6/10
Best for: Pickled ginger lovers
Worst for: Purists