Kurobuta Marble Arch: On-trend, if not for all (September 2014)

It seems that if you want to attempt to ensure success in opening a London restaurant then there is a fairly simple formula to follow: you hire a chef formerly at a prestigious restaurant (in this case, Nobu); you offer pan-Asian fusion food; you make all the dishes obligatory for sharing; and you staff the place with trendy and good-looking people. Kurobuta does all these things and while we loved the food, the atmosphere left a little more to be desired. On the negative side, the tables are spaced very closely together (so close in fact that I accidentally knocked a glass off the neighbouring table when sitting down). Moreover, if you are unlucky, you may not even get your own, since there are also ‘sharing benches’ here for the more sociably minded. The music was also ear-splittingly loud, great if you want to sit there and be cool, less if you want to have an old-fashioned conversation. When presented with the menu, we were told three dishes each would suffice, but the organisation of the menu into seven ‘themed’ sections only confused, and our somewhat impatient server did not proffer any further assistance. Perhaps it doesn’t matter since – as is also the trend these days – the dishes arrive when they are ready rather than per a set formula. While it is easy to be critical of all of the above, in fairness to Kurobuta, theirs is a very innovative take on Japanese/ Asian food and the nine dishes our group sampled were all undoubted successes. The humble edamame bean, for example, is given a make-over here, flamed and then enhanced with sake, lemon, butter and salt – superb! From the ‘junk food Japan’ section, we also loved the tuna sashimi pizza; in reality, a very thin oven-baked crust topped with raw fish and adorned with truffle, red onion and green chilli. Elsewhere, the soft-shell crab and the scallop sashimi with kimchee both pleased while the sticky miso grilled aubergine with candied walnuts left our group salivating for more. We enjoyed these dishes with two bottles of an excellent Chilean Gewurztraminer, chosen from an innovative, predominantly New World list. While not cheap (bills in these sorts of places have a nasty habit of adding up), my advice would be go for the food and learn to live with the noise