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Nobu London - ultra modern Japanese

NB: All prices are shown in pounds sterling

Nobu is the latest in a succession of stylish oriental restaurants to open in some of London's major international hotels. For instance, there's the breathtakingly expensive Oriental at the Dorchester in Park Lane and the Inn of Happiness at the St James's Court Hotel in Victoria. Nobu London occupies a whole floor of The Metropolitan, located amongst that cluster of smart modern hotels at the bottom of Park Lane, and the restaurant has its own entrance at 19 Old Park Lane.

The massive hit of last year was Vong - short for Jean-Georges Vongerichten - who followed up his successful New York operation here in London at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. Nobu is short for Nobuyuki Matsuhisa who also has restaurants in LA and New York and who has used the same design team as Vong, United Designers, to create another stylish uncluttered dining space here in London.

Nobu has been open now for two months and when we visited early on a Monday evening the place was already getting busy. By the time we left just after nine o'clock all the tables were full, and both the drinks bar and the sushi bar were packed with happy looking people. We sat at a table overlooking the park, the sun streamed in through electronically adjusted translucent blinds. I'm not an expert on Japanese cooking - I've been to those noisy Teppan-yaki places in New York where they chop and flick food about with amazing dexterity. Such displays have little to do with real cooking and I was relieved to find that the emphasis at Nobu was on restraint rather than vulgar exuberance. Having said that, it is a fun place to be, with plenty of celebs to spot if you like such diversions. The atmosphere comes naturally from enthusiasm and enjoyment.

There is a wide choice of many, mostly smallish, dishes. Each one that we sampled was an intense and harmonious expression of flavours, colours and textures, elegantly presented on a different ceramic bowl or plate, none of which would have looked the least out of place in one of the Oriental galleries in the Victoria and Albert Museum. There were oval ones, dark green oblong ones, curved translucent blue ones like an open canoe: a procession of shapes and hues.

Our waitress was as charming as a waitress could be, but more than that, she knew every detail of each dish and how it was prepared. We placed ourselves entirely in her hands and she chose a brilliant combination of dishes, each one a joyous little surprise.

First came a plate of Salmon Sashimi 9.50, simply arranged with a dressing based on the scalding olive and sesame oils that are poured over the fish to sear and seal it. Then, artfully disposed on a bed of ice was Toro Tartare with caviar 12.00 - the best parts of the tuna fish with wasabe flavouring further enhanced with caviar. We took time savouring every mouthful. After that came some wild mushroom salad 6.50 and a brief pause.

We next sampled four different "Nobu special dishes" which form the centrepiece of the menu. If we had chosen not to rely on our waitress we could have ordered the Chef's Choice, a multi-course Omakase Menu from œ50.00. Nasu Miso 2.50 was a long thin species of aubergine with a sweet miso sauce coating topped with toasted sesame seeds. This was a wonderful combination and it set me thinking about other sweet ideas with aubergines. It hadn't occured to me that it's one of those vegetables that sits on the fence between sweet and savoury. We were brought some rather posh satay which turned out to be Peruvian inspired Anti-Cucho skewered chicken 4.75. Recent events have been a sharp reminder of the traffic in cross culture between Japan and Peru.

In the beautiful blue bowl came rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce 7.50. It had flavours that one just didn't want to end, sealed inside the lightest and crispiest of batter. We also tried the black cod 11.50, marinated for five days in sweet miso sauce. The flakey meat was deliciously unctuous and it arrived on a bold diagonal green palm leaf. We ended the main part of our meal with tenderloin of beef with teriyaki sauce 14.75 and nice chewy rice, 1.00. The meat was exactly right, tender and pink and the sauce had none of that gloopy texture that too often characterises oriental cuisine.

We shared a sophisticated dessert of roasted pineapple soup with pineapple pieces supporting a dollop of smokey vanilla and tea flavoured sorbet with some lovely crunchy herby biscuits to dunk with, 6.50.

This is certainly a place you could go back to many times, for we barely scratched the surface of the menu. We didn't try any of the sushi, whether hand rolled or cut. You can have a sushi dinner for 19.50, or you could put together choices of kushiyaki or tempura, which for two pieces range in price from one pound for aubergine to 4.25 for scallops.

The cost of the meal rather depends on the size of your appetite. I imagine it can add up to quite a whack if you go crazy. Our food came to just over 76.00 for the two of us, but we did have rather a lot! We drank a lovely bottle of Gewurztraminer 1995 from Metz 19.50, with all our fishy dishes and we washed down the beef teriyaki with a half a bottle of Cotes de Duras Merlot 8.50. The wine list starts with some extremely reasonable prices and ends with some extremely silly ones. But that's up to you, if you want to be silly! My only criticism of what was in every other respect an evening of sheer gastronomic perfection, is that the staff do not perhaps understand wine and the needs of wine drinkers as much as they do the food. We had to wait before we could order the wine, and there was another delay before the wine arrived, by which time we were well into the third dish. My advice is to order a bottle of the Gewurztraminer the moment you get your knees under the table!

Eating at Nobu London was an immensely pleasurable experience and I highly recommend a visit. Booking is essential; tables are turned but the staff are quite discreet and sensitive abut how they do it.

Nobu London, 19 Old Park Lane, W1Y 4LB. Tel: 020 7447 4747

Nobu New York, 105 Hudson Street, New York NY 10013 Tel: 212 219 0500

Matsuhisa, 129 North La Cienaga Boulevard, Beverly Hills, Ca 90211

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