Nobu eateries dot the globe, from Dallas to Bahamas, from Monte Carlo to Polanco. It’s a rags to riches to more riches story that warms the capitalist heart. It begins with Nobu Matsuhisa, one of countless sushi chefs in Japan’s capital city. A Japanese Peruvian customer tasted his morsels and decided his adopted country deserved to experience the same majesty. So a deal was struck and Nobu, aged 24, opened Matsue in Lima. Four years later he moved to the US and worked for a decade in various Japanese establishments. Matsuhisa Beverly Hills was his next personal venture and in 1987, restaurant regular Robert De Niro prophesied New York was ripe for the picking. A partnership was struck, a Big Apple outlet came into fruition, and the success of which led to international expansion.
Given the fact I’ve never enrolled in a cooking course, and only briefly served tandoori and buttery chicken at an Indian restaurant in sleepy Perth, I’m not a food critic in any sense. But I’ll go out on a limb and say their food has a unique taste. In a good way of course. And then I do a little background reading and find Nobu is most famous for two things; Nobu-san’s Amazonian experiment caused him to develop a signature fusion style, since Japanese ingredients were slightly hard to come by in that part of the world. Another is what you get when you open in Beverly Hills, with the likes of De Niro leading the charge – a regular congregation of celebrities at both the L.A. and New York restaurants. So while it is Michelin decorated, this classy chain restaurant is one of the best places to see and be seen. Pricing likewise aims at patrons for whom money is no serious object, attracting their fair share of the moneyed and magnetic for this reason alone.
But on to our lunch menu. Across a round table, they served seven to eight writers a series of shared appetisers. None of which had names which would have left anyone gobsmacked – Salmon New Style Sashimi, Yellow Tail Jalapeno, Seafood Ceviche, Butter Lettuce Dry Miso, Soft Shell Crab Kara-age. Main dishes were also shared so everyone could get a taste. There were tasty items like Assorted Mushroom Toban Yaki, Shrimp Spicy Garlic, Salmon Antichucho Donburi, Grilled Chicken Truffle Teriyaki and Tenderloin Wasabi Pepper Sauce.
If the old joke about which idiot ordered the ambiance is familiar, whoever foots the bill will be left amazed at the true depth of Japanese understatement. While the idea to combine paper thin slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce with sashimi came to Nobu-san a couple of decades back, it’s still a novel way to eat fresh seafood. Mixed with their citrusy ceviche, spicy lemon dressing and iconic yellowtail recipe, casual luncheons turn into quite exquisite experiences. Even more so when you tell your guests about the Tinseltown resonance the brand still enjoys even to this day.
There’s a choice of four desserts – Banana Harumaki, Sata-Andagi (a kind of cake), Green Tea Fiji Shaved Ice – but I’d recommend the all-time favourite Suntory Whisky Cappucino. Creamy and light, this little cup of delicious booziness sets the perfect afternoon tone, unless of course you’re expected back at the office.
Nobu is proof positive that Japanese cuisine can be both authentic and contemporary. Their signature style strays off the beaten path, but does so with perfect portions of innovation and creativity. So it’s not all celebrity sightings and the persistent cult of personality surrounding Nobu-san that’s carried the restaurant. But there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?