Sashimi pizza and dessert sake? They may sound odd, but this is what you call Japanese junk food, the current serving at the latest outpost of Scott Hallsworth’s edgy London restaurant Kurobuta, tucked away in the top-floor food court of Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge.
After a raging success at its tiny original pop-up on Chelsea’s King’s Road, Kurobuta opened a fancier Marble Arch restaurant, and most recently has popped-up at Harvey Nichols, for a two year residency. Ex-Nobu Australian chef Scott Hallsworth’s premium yet edgy offering ties in well with the department store – impeccable knowledge of Japanese food is shaken up and stripped down to replicate sticky, informal Japanese izakaya post-work drinking dens. Leave behind bright department-store lighting, piles of tempting merchandise, and the food court’s Yo Sushi and Burger & Lobster, for the dimly lit restaurant complete with dark wooden seats, brushed aluminum tables and a bashed copper sushi bar where you can sit and intently watch the tattoo-clad, t-shirt wearing chefs’ craft in the small open kitchen.
The clever cooking is of the pick and mix kind – BBQ fusion dishes, ‘junk food japan’ choices, raw sashimi and maki, and a whole section dedicated to frilly tempura. Portions are tapas size (and cost between &7.50 and £18), so we recommend ordering six or seven between two. Highlights include beautifully soft 12-hour, slow-cooked octopus with green olive halves, dried miso and chilli; rolled-up yellowtail sashimi with wasabi salsa and citrusy yuzu soy; and BBQ pork belly in pillowy steamed buns with crunchy, spicy peanut soy. Scott’s contrasting textures are a particular strong point – melting wagyu beef sliders with savoury umami mayo are ramped up with crunchy tempura onion rings; soft pieces of tuna sashimi sit on a crisp, light tortilla base with bursting bubbles of wasabi-infused tobiko (flying fish roe); and kombu seaweed-roasted Chilean sea bass has a crisp crust encasing a soft centre with a spicy sauce on the side. Scott’s extremely popular nasu dengaku is a Kurobuta classic for a reason – sticky miso-grilled aubergine with candied walnuts is sweet and salty and terrifically moreish (it’s so good that we got hold of the recipe).
Desserts are similarly exquisite, and distinctly undersell themselves on the menu – a simple ‘yuzu pot’ is actually a smooth yuzu crème brûléewith yuzu pears, topped with whipped green tea meringue and biscuity sake ice cream. Hot chocolate fondant is worth the 15-minute wait – chocolate sponge and feuillantine with a melting dark chocolate centre is balanced with refreshing blood orange sorbet. The intriguing deconstructed lavender apple pie sounds like it’s worth returning for, too. Eitherway, pair your puddings with a dessert sake or two: gozenshu yuzu is a Japanese limoncello with a floral yuzu twist that cuts through the chocolate fondant, and gozenshu plum is fresh and zesty with tartness from the plum notes.
Cocktails deliver – floral and refreshing Harajuku Girl mixes Hendricks gin, a hint of rose syrup and a dash of lychee liqueur, with a tiny flower on top for good measure. Wakamomo is particularly noteworthy, muddling Japanese baby peaches with Finlandia vodka, elderflower and apricot liqueur. If you prefer your craft beers, though, there are plenty of Japanese options available, and the beer slushy is quite the spectacle – Kirin Ichiban Japanese lager is churned to create a frozen liquid that is poured on top of a pint to form a creamy frozen head.
The indie/rock soundtrack may not be everyone’s cup of (green) tea, but the line-up of Nirvana, pre-fame Kings of Leon and Maximo Park, along with the casually dressed charming Australian waiters, adds to the unpretentious, take-it-or-leave-it ethos of Kurobuta.