Published on September 13th, 2013 | by Magnus Reviewman0
Review 15 – Nobu
50% South Korean, 50% English… I’m one of many people in Australia who literally personify Asian Fusion. But when you’re talking about Asian Fusion in a culinary sense, there aren’t really that many things that can obviously mix. If you’re not an expert, your menu is going to end up as appetising as that juice that always seems to develop at the bottom of bins. Luckily, the masterminds in the Nobu kitchen are clearly experts.
Walking in, you can feel the thick wall of opulence. The décor is serious business. Glass orbs adorn portions of the ceiling, geometric wooden pillars are sprinkled throughout the main chamber, the hues are rich but understated, there’s more wood than a forest and more leather than a paddock full of livestock. It’s very nice indeed, but some might find it intimidating or excessive. Restaurant Amusé for me nails high-end décor, but I don’t mind Nobu’s approach.
Service was up and down. Birthday girl Mother Reviewman, Father Reviewman and I had a fantastic, knowledgeable American waitress for most of the night. She checked how we were doing regularly, and was happy to suggest her favourites from the complex, large menu. After we’d decided on our wines, we asked a young waiter for the menu. He advised us that he’d have to tell someone else to get the menu for us which, to be fair, happened promptly. But really, can you not get a menu for a table yourself? There must be some process that needs to be followed, yes, but in that case the issue extends to management. It’s the classic case of “if your management instructed you to jump off a cliff, then would you?” If there’s an easier way to do something that results in a superior experience for the punter, do it.
When ordering our food, we advised another waitress that we would be ordering the Black Cod Miso and Nasu Miso. The waitress said that we shouldn’t take that approach, since “the flavours are too similar”. Mother Reviewman insisted. Her thoughts must have been along similar lines to mine: how can a fish taste similar, in any way, to an eggplant? It’s not even like comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing a pillowcase to a bag of macadamias – not even close to the same ballpark. Our suspicions proved true – the waitress was unequivocally wrong.
Speaking of food… woah. Whether it’s pronounced Nobu as in “no, boo, I hate that political party” or Nobu as in “knob, boo, I prefer handles” there’s no debating the standard of the food. We started with some Miso Soup ($7). There’s a depth of flavour here you won’t find at your corner Japanese store. It’s more robust, without any wateriness, just a hefty hit of miso taste and silky tofu.
Next up was one of Chef Nobu’s takes on sashimi: Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeño ($26). It may as well have jumped out of the ocean, so pure and fresh was the fishy flavour. It was super delicate, and accompanied by jalapeño, coriander (there’s that fusion) and a lovely sauce that tied everything together, some sort of soy-based concoction. Next level sashimi.
The Black Cod Miso ($46) is undoubtedly Nobu’s most famous dish, isn’t it Robert De Niro, Academy Award winner, actor of note and celebrity fan of this dish (and part-owner of this restaurant)? “You talkin’ to me?” Yes I am. Masterfully cooked, it flakes apart just sitting on the plate, yet each flake has a satisfying springiness to it. And the flavour? Exquisite comes to mind. Sweet, salty and virtually spherical in its perfect roundness and balance also come to mind. I can safely say it’s one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever set tastebuds upon.
The Nasu Miso ($9) was off the hook too, pun absolutely intended, but the Black Cod was a hard act to follow. It was nicely charred on the skin, for a pleasant smokiness, and there was a banana-like quality to the texture and flavour of the flesh, which worked superbly with the miso sauce. And no, it didn’t taste like cod, it was it’s own beast.
Beef Toban-Yaki ($32) is a relatively simple dish of seared beef and mushrooms, served in a clay dish that’s deglazed with a sauce made from sake, yuzu and soy. The nature of the ingredients meant that they absorbed the sauce, which for me was the star of the dish, lending the produce punchy flavours. Buttery mushrooms smoothed things out, and the succulent beef slices were loaded with saucy goodness.
On the side we went with two pairs of Vegetable Skewers ($8 a pair), one with an Eastern Kushiyaki sauce and the other with a South American Anticucho sauce. Huh? Vegetable Skewers? Why? Boring! Would Robert De Niro order them? Probably not, but don’t knock ‘em ‘til you’ve noshed on ‘em. Hefty chunks of onion, zucchini and mushroom, flame-grilled for a smoky hit is a good start. Douse one with a sweet, sour, salty sauce and the other with a peri peri-esque concoction and you’re moving in a flavoursome new direction. Then pay attention to the garnish – lemon juice, avocado and tomato on the Anticucho and pickled vegies on the Kushiyaki, and you’ve got sides that are way more than the sum of their parts. Smart, uncomplicated stuff.
You don’t often find elaborate desserts in Japanese restaurants. Asian Fusion though? Yes please. We went with a Banana Cake, Warm Chocolate Mousse, and a Miso Parfait (all $18). I didn’t get to try the Banana Cake, which certainly looked nice, and judging from the speed at which Father Reviewman consumed the thing, would likely have tasted nice too. The Warm Chocolate Mousse looked suspect on paper. Warm mousse isn’t really mousse, more soup. Or so I thought. In practice, Nobu’s warm mousse doesn’t have the soft, part yoghurt part ice cream texture of mousse, it’s more of a foam. It would have been exceedingly soft if not for the garnishes of crumble, fresh mandarin, ice cream and caramel. Great, but there are better…
…which brings me to the Miso Parfait, one of the best desserts I’ve had, almost up there with Heston’s Quaking Pudding and Attica’s Plight of the Bees. With droplets of a bittersweet caramel sauce, a few kernels of caramelised popcorn, tonka bean foam, caramel shards set on and around an absolutely mind-blowing miso and salted caramel parfait on a crumbly biscuit base, it’s innovative, presented stunningly and, importantly, will dazzle even the fussiest of eaters with flavour. It’s a masterpiece of crispiness, soft foam, crunchy popcorn, smooth sauce and 100% balanced flavours. It’s surely Nobu’s dessert Magnum Opus.
It’s also probably the best value item on the menu, pound for pound. Or should I say gram for gram. These portions are small. You get one fillet of black cod and a bit of ginger, about seven one-centimetre thin slices of beef with a handful of mushrooms, six slices of sashimi… you get the idea. In order to be full at the end of a Nobu meal, you’re going to want to order three dishes a person minimum. Even on a Perth scale, this is pretty stingy. In the same complex, you could spend the same amount at Rockpool, Modo Mio, The Merrywell or Bistro Guillaume and eat until you literally burst. Look further, and head to Balthazar or Cantina 663 and you’ll get large mains for the price of a tapas-sized Nobu dish. These aren’t cheap restaurants, but compared to Nobu, they’re practically fast food priced.
Add up the awesome food and the exceptional restaurant presentation, and there’s precious little wrong with Nobu. The service is a weird kink considering the international standing this restaurant group has, but it’s an easy fix. It’s much more difficult to fix poor food than it is to fix sporadically good service. Nobu’s already hitting bullseyes in one of those categories. A bit more training, and you’ve got the perfect restaurant, if you’ve got the coins.