Nobu London - ultra modern Japanese
NB: All prices are shown in pounds
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
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.
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