It’s hard to talk about Joe’s Oriental Diner without mentioning Kurobuta, both come from Australian Chef Scott Hallsworth, and both offer up Asian influenced finger food to be shared in a vibrant, busy and trendy settings. So when coming to review Joe’s Oriental Diner I was told I had the fortune of sampling Kurobuta’s wares too.
We started the night at the new Kurobuta, previously it was located where Joe’s now stands, but due to popularity has moved to a bigger venue across the road. All black from the outside with pretty much no signs (it’s right next to Club JuJu in case you end up repeatedly walking past it); you get the impression this is for people in the know. Walking in feels like going into a bar, dimly lit with touches of neon, warehouse-like bare brick walls with club music playing in the background. The atmosphere is buzzing.
The menu is reminiscent of an ”Izakaya”, the Japanese equivalent of a pub where a night out drinking is generally accompanied by a series of tapas- like plates made for sharing. Kurobuta hits this nail on the head with an array of cocktails on offer, making the experience there somewhere between going out for dinner and going out.
Straight off the bat we’re given some Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks to share, an earthy and sweet puree encased with a deep fried batter, served with a truffle ponzu dip it feels luxurious but still fun and entirely new. Dishes are gradually brought one after the other giving an easy-going vibe to the evening as we chat over plates of Yellowtail Tuna Sashimi. One that stood out was the rich, meaty Miso Grilled Aubergines with sesame seeds, so much so we ended having a long chat with our lovely waiter Emily about the many merits of awesome but underrated Aubergine. The food here really is excellent, everything we tried had great flavour and was perfectly suited to the theme of the restaurant. One warning would be, it is fairly expensive with a small plate of sashimi (you’d need a few to get a meal’s worth) costing around £13 and the smaller more snack-like offers coming in around £7.00. Though there are worse deals to be found on the Kings Road and you know the food won’t disappoint.
Now that we’d had our Kurobuta experience it was time to check out the new kid on the block, Joe’s Oriental Diner. We were whisked across the street (I think for fear we would get lost again) to the smaller slightly more casual venue. The chef behind both restaurants, Scott Hallsworth, has said, “If Kurobuta at 251 was a good house party then Joe’s is gonna be a mosh pit.” You can see where he’s coming from, rock n’ roll blasts out of the speakers, tables are packed together creating an intimate social atmosphere and at the back you can see the chefs at work in a fast paced open kitchen.
Where as Kurobuta was all about snacking on an array of Japanese delights, Joe’s takes us to south east Asia with a similar formula of dim sum/ tapas like dishes made for sharing alongside cocktails, beers and wines. We kicked off with some BBQ belly pork with chilli jam, delicious crispy cubes of roasted pork belly that were perfectly cooked and a great way of turning that cut of meat into finger food. The Beef Rendang buns were an interesting new dish; it’s a nice mix having the sticky bun combined with a thick coconut and sweet potato curry with melts- in- your mouth beef. At £13 it feels like you get more food for your money though it isn’t quite as refined as Kurobuta’s. One of the stand-out dishes was the Mushroom San Choy Bao, an umami heavy, rich mix of shiitake, enoki and oyster mushrooms. Coming in at £8, it’s not cheap but you get a decent amount, it has massive flavour and is filling whilst feeling fresh. Also fun to share served in little lettuce cups.
Both these pop-up restaurants aim for a fun, quirky and youthful eating experience; those adjectives normally set of warning alarms in my head but surprisingly they pull it off without being annoying. The most important thing is retained; the cooking, which is top quality with great menu ideas. Kurobuta is a bit more refined in its food and the place to go if you’re looking for your Japanese fix, but it’s a little more expensive. Joe’s Oriental Diner is a more filling and rock n’ roll kind of experience giving you some exotic south east-Asian flavours in a fast paced and friendly joint. If you’re looking for some Asian finger food to share with friends, head down to Kings Road. Between Kurobuta and Joe’s you will be guaranteed to find something that blows your mind; just make sure you’ve passed pay day.