This does not really seem like the era for restaurant empire-building. Mortally-imperilled businesses are openly pleading for bookings. Barely anyone has the staffing capacity to open at lunchtime. And last month, Sunda Kitchen — a Pan-Asian affair on the Covent Garden site of what was once the ill-starred Wahlburgers — closed so abruptly that I didn’t even have time to go in and pronounce on its relative chances of survival in a seemingly cursed location (not great, as it turns out).
So on the face of it, the launch of Kuro Eatery — a new, dining-focused spin-off of Notting Hill’s minimalist Kuro Coffee — looks like counter-intuitive boldness. Throw in the fact that the team is also converting its nearby independent magazine shop, Kuro Kiosk, into a bakery (with plans to install urban beehives and vegetable gardens on vacant rooftops) and that boldness maybe edges into doomed naivety.
But I am going to predict that misgivings like this won’t really survive contact with Kuro’s newest endeavour. Because to slide into its serene little room of blonde wood, puttering background jazz, and mercurial, Italo-Japanese cuisine is to be steadily ambushed by wave after wave of unexpected brilliance. It will not, I think, be a surprise to learn that head chef Andrianos Poulis is a veteran of Hackney’s Michelin-starred Cornerstone. And, ultimately, as you make your way through a meal — as you plunge knobbly lengths of roast potato into parmesan oil or push crumbed fish through the deep, mustardy sweetness of a barbecued carrot sauce — what will emerge is the realisation that, rather than ill-timed overreach, Kuro’s ambition is the mark of a kitchen and business confident enough to know it is on to something special.
Which is not to say that the general vibe and aesthetic won’t strike you, initially at least, as perhaps being a touch austere. Set in a backstreet a little walk from Notting Hill Gate, amid the pastel-painted houses that tourists treat like giant Instagram backdrops, it sits in a big-windowed corner berth, just across from Kuro Coffee’s matching white exterior and cortado-sipping yoga entrepreneurs. The pale cream walls are bare and carefully uplit. There is a long, low stone bar that’s a little like an omakase counter. And on the day we went in, the only things punctuating the neutral, restrained palette were a decent crowd and a few bottles of wine.
“It’s a specific sort of look, isn’t it?” said Madeleine, my wife, as we crashed in with the kids, somewhat disturbing the air of monastic peace with our noise and our bags and the felt-tip pens and sketchpads that we take basically everywhere. Still, if there is something a little cold and featureless about the space, then personality and life positively brim from the food.
If there is something a little featureless about the space, then personality and life positively brim from the food
The Japanese potato salad had hypnotic creaminess, flecks of smoked mackerel and a generous, sunny cascade of grated cured egg yolk. That crumbed fish was, in fact, a Milanese-style cotolette of red bream; a wonder of delicately steamed flakes in a form-fitting golden breaded jacket. Tagliatelle brought a slippery nest of pasta, another egg yolk, smoked cheese and piercing granules of crispy pork; the lord’s own carbonara in all but name.
The grown-ups washed it all down with glasses of fantastically pale and subtle MIP Classic 2021 rose, and swore promises to return for the evening menu’s pork with aged soy sauce, celeriac in olive ‘XO’ and an intriguing little come-on they call ‘Tiramichoux’.
It has long been a pet theory of mine that some of the most consistent, cost-conscious and inventive cooking in the capital is actually happening in modern cafes; that, in fact, for a new generation, little all-day operations run by ambitious, obsessive chefs (and I am thinking here of Catalyst in Holborn, Esters in Stoke Newington and Good as Gold in Brockley), occupy the same place of habitual custom and emotional investment that was once the sole preserve of traditional restaurants.
Kuro Eatery’s careful, elegant subtlety only bolsters this theory. And if there is any justice at all, then this will be a neighbourhood empire that, against the odds, triumphs rather than topples.
5 Hillgate Street, W8 7SP. Meal for two plus drinks about £120. Open Monday to Sunday from 9am-4pm (8am on weekends), with supper service Thursday to Saturday, 6pm-10.30pm; kuro-london.com