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Nobu*, London [Restaurant Review]

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Reviewed by the wild boar

Q: So Dad, where do you want to eat in London?
A: Nobu.

I have to admit, that wasn’t really the answer I expected. Yet as my parents explained later, they had heard many good things about it back in Malaysia so they were quite keen on trying it themselves as it had shot to fame upon the wave of interest in Japanese cuisine in the 90s with its take on fusion styles. Myself, I wasn’t displeased as it meant I had one less expensive meal to pay on my own.


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We made reservations for lunch on Sunday at the one in Metropolitan Hotel, the first UK branch opened in 1997 and both this and the Berkeley Street branch have a Michelin star each. We were amongst the first to arrive but by 1.30pm the 150 cover dining area was very nearly filled up.


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The menu was quite extensive so to simplify things the five of us chose to have the lunch Omakase menu (= chef’s choice) with two of us having the £50 and the other three having the £60 option. The Japanese waitress (who provided excellent service throughout the meal) explained that the
£50 option comprised mostly of Nobu’s signature dishes whereas the £60 courses was supposed to have the more traditional and delicate dishes (I didn’t particularly agree with this as it was still fairly fusion styled).

We chose to have some genmaicha – green tea with roasted rice. The rice added a distinctive roasted rice aroma to the tea.


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First course: I had a salmon tartar with spring onions topped with caviar on a pool of soya sauce and wasabi (unfortunately, there wasn’t a menu provided as the dishes change daily, so the dish names are made up by me). I thought this was not bad but it didn’t seem anything particularly special and the soya sauce was too salty, although this could be sidestepped by just avoiding it.


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salmon tartar with spring onions topped with caviar on a pool of soya sauce and wasabi

On the other hand, the tuna and tofu tartar alternative was more interesting, as the tofu added an extra taste and texture to the tartar. On the other hand, some may say that the tofu taste masked the tuna.


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tuna and tofu tartar

Second course: A generous looking plate containing slices of seared tuna slices, a prawn, vegetable spring rolls and Matsuhisa’s house dressing. The tuna was seared perfectly, with the delicate tuna meat still firm and raw in the middle. The star of the dish however was the dressing bearing the main chef’s name; full of umami-ness, the strong tasting sauce was delicious enough to make me want to slurp it all up.


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slices of seared tuna slices, a prawn, vegetable spring rolls and Matsuhisa’s house dressing

Meanwhile, the other half was making good headway on her scallop and lobster sashimi with olive salsa, fried prawn head and porcini mushrooms. It wasn’t truly sashimi, more like half cooked, which is fine with me as I feel that brought out the taste of those shellfish better. The olive salsa was also delicious and added just a little more flavour to the seafood. The prawn head was deep fried and completely edible (I hope…), but paled in comparison to the prawn head at Sushi Hiro (review pending) which was filled with roe.


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scallop and lobster sashimi with olive salsa, fried prawn head and porcini mushrooms

Third course: Black cod with miso, pickled ginger on the side is arguably the most famous dish in Nobu’s range, spawning countless imitations in other restaurants (my uncle claims Nobu still does it best though). I feel that the secret here is in the ingredient – the black cod is a superb piece of fish, incredibly flavourful, rich and buttery. However, the chef also did a brilliant job in cooking the fish as it was just done nicely and seasoned well with the miso.


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Black cod with miso, pickled ginger on the side
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After that, the red snapper tempura with bonito flakes in a tempura sauce just doesn’t seem so appealing and I was loath to swap dishes with the PigPig halfway through as is our custom. The little slivers of fish seemed reasonably fresh although they weren’t particularly sweet in flavour, unlike the tempura sauce which had a good mix of salty, sour and just a little bit sweet.


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red snapper tempura with bonito flakes in a tempura sauce


Fourth course: Beef flavoured with sake in soya and yuzu sauce on enoki and shitake mushrooms came on a sizzling platter and the waitress added that the beef could be further cooked by placing it on the side of the dish if desired. Although very tender, I felt the beef lacked the aroma of proper beef (although I can understand that some people may prefer this). The yuzu added a subtle citrus aroma to the sauce.


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Beef flavoured with sake in soya and yuzu sauce on enoki and shitake mushrooms

The first thing I noticed about the partridge with cauliflower cream and mushrooms was the purple cream; it may have looked a bit odd but it was pretty delicious and had a good cauliflower taste with none of the bitterness. The partridge itself was tender and not dry, but it didn’t have a lot of game flavour.


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partridge with cauliflower cream and mushrooms

Fifth course: Assorted sushi of turbot, salmon, tuna, prawn tempura and asparagus, spider roll (deep fried soft shell crab maki). Pretty self explanatory in terms of the fish flavours, really depends on your personal preferences. The fish seemed pretty fresh but the rice was a bit disappointing as it was a bit dry, lacked sufficient flavour and it broke apart quite easily.


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Assorted sushi of turbot, salmon, tuna, prawn tempura and asparagus, spider roll

The other sushi set had salmon with a dressing of garlic, chives and sesame oil, o-toro, freshwater eel, ebi, sea bass and a maki containing five different types of fish. The dressing atop the salmon was quite nice and added just a subtle aroma to the fish. The o-toro was a bit disappointing as it wasn’t as fatty and succulent as previous sashimi I had at Sushi-Say (still my favourite sushi joint in London, please give me other suggestions though). I’ve only had the freshwater eel once before at Sushi Hiro and I found this every bit as good and very creamy.


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salmon with a dressing of garlic, chives and sesame oil, o-toro, freshwater eel, ebi, sea bass and a maki containing five different types of fish

Both sushi sets came with a red clam miso soup which I think is counted as a course. I didn’t think this any different from normal miso soup.


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red clam miso soup

Sixth course: One of my favourite types of desserts, I felt lucky that I was given a chocolate fondant with green tea ice cream. The fondant was very rich and had a lot of chocolate flavour but the pastry felt a little rough. On the other hand, the green tea ice cream was the richest I’ve ever had and didn’t have any of the instant powder feeling.


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chocolate fondant with green tea ice cream
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The layered mixtures of pineapple, baba rum and sabayonne ice cream and soy milk foam (bottom to top) was very pretty to look at and felt pretty good on the tongue too. The top ice cream/foam mix was quite light and the creaminess was a nice accompaniment to the baba rum while the pineapple added some fruity flavour.


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pineapple, baba rum and sabayonne ice cream and soy milk foam

We had actually planned for this meal to be for my mother’s birthday so I had pre-arranged a cake with Nobu while making the booking. They only had four choices but I plumped for a chocolate brownie cake – turned out to be an inspired choice as it was the absolute best chocolate brownie I ever had. Sufficiently chocolate-y to satisfy both me and the PigPig, it was wonderfully moist and fudgy – seriously, go try it if you get a chance.


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Overall, the bill for the food (and chocolate brownie) including two bottles of still water and several pots of genmaicha came to £80 each.

Food – 8.0
Service – 7.0
Atmosphere – 6.0
Value – 5.0


I’ve been aware of Nobu’s presence for a good few years now and several of my friends had tried it with mixed reviews but the general consensus was good tasting food at tiny portions. In this respect I was quite full after the tasting course, yet the bill is substantially higher than the average meal. Regarding the food itself, it is actually quite good and I suppose it is worthy of its one Michelin star although I felt the sushi rice was a bit disappointing although the fish itself is not bad.

Would I eat here again? I certainly wouldn’t mind being a regular diner here once I strike the lottery.

Nobu London
19 Old Park Lane
The West End,
W1K 1LB
Tel: +44(020) 7447 4747
Official website

Nobu on Urbanspoon


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