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Nobu Berkeley (London) : Food is Love

Georges Rouzeau-2006-08-16

Borrowing from Japan and South America alike, Nobu Matsuhisa’s cuisine is like no other. The perfection of certain dishes, which have become classics throughout the world, commands admiration.

An amazing decor, designed by David Collins, all organic shapes and natural materials; beautiful people everywhere you look, and more jewellery than in the queen’s coffers; staff as efficient as they are attentive (who had six months’ training prior to the opening); and above all, an incredibly refined cuisine that combines modernity, elegance and absolute freshness. This Japanese cuisine, which borrows from the whole world, is light years away from the traditional sushi that we all know. It is the work of a unique man, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, a chef born in Saitama, Japan, who travelled from Peru to Alaska, and from Argentina to Greece, before settling down in Beverly Hills, California.
 
For thirty years his cuisine has been absorbing influences from all over the world and reflecting them in a dazzling kaleidoscope. After difficult beginnings, Nobu was spotted in Los Angeles by Robert de Niro: together, the actor and the chef opened a restaurant that immediately won over the upper crust of the Big Apple. Robert de Niro subsequently offered him a small role in the film Casino!
 
This star of new Japanese cuisine now has a dozen restaurants throughout the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Malibu, Aspen, Las Vegas, London, Milan, Tokyo and soon Hong Kong. The Nobu Berkeley opened six months ago and was immediately awarded a first Michelin star…
 
All this glamour, success and sophistication would be futile if Nobu’s cuisine were not inspired by one key word, “kokoro”, meaning “cuisine of the heart”. In the eyes of Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, food must remain in touch with nature, assist the functioning of the body and embody the quest for a long, healthy and prosperous life.
 
Raw or cooked, sweet or savoury, bitter or acidic, meat or fish: Nobu-style gastronomy uses an astonishing range of flavours and raw materials, imported from Japan or South America.
 
By way of ablution, I savour a Japanese mohito with Zubrovska vodka flavoured with shiso leaves, an aromatic herb similar to mint. The rest of the meal will be washed down alternately with very sweet sake, distilled specially for Nobu, and green tea.
 
The first dish, tuna belly (Toro) tartar, sprinkled with a few grains of caviar and served with real wasabi, instantly melts in the mouth. Then I nibble a Japanese berry gathered in the mountains, known as yamamomo, whose acidity prepares the palate for the next dish: fine slices of yellowtail rockfish served with jalapeño, a small chilli, and soy sauce, a dish that celebrates the successful encounter between Japan and Peru. Then comes an extraordinary variation on sashimi.
 
Thin slices of tuna sealed for a moment on the grill before being thrown into ice: all served on mixed shoots with Matsuhisa sauce, a Japanese mustard vinaigrette containing chives, sesame, rice vinegar and soy sauce.
 
I then sample Nobu’s absolute classic, the dish that earned him an international reputation, Alaskan black cod, Nobu-style. The fish, marinaded in white miso* (shiro miso), is served with Hajikami sauce, a Nobu speciality made with marinaded ginger shoots. The very tender flesh, cooked to perfection, yields sweet notes that are particularly heady.
 
The Wagyu beef, similar to the famous Kobe beef, is cooked in a blend of chilli, spices, herbs, oils and sake. Served in a boiling hot dish, you can continue to cook the pieces of meat on the rim for a few moments. Another Nobu classic, the soft-shelled crab rolls consign to oblivion countless evenings at the local Japanese restaurant. Served in a box (that you can take home as a souvenir), the desserts are sadly not very interesting: besides the inevitable chocolate fondant, there are fine ice creams (tea, milk and whisky flavours) and a coffee-flavoured creme brulee.
 
Finally, there is just one problem with Nobu, and a big one at that. There is every chance that you will be sitting next to David Beckham or Kate Moss. It’s a pity: you might well forget that this temple of trendiness is also an excellent restaurant.
 
Miso is a Japanese condiment made from fermented soybeans.
 
Nobu Berkeley
15 Berkeley Street, London W1J 8DY
Tel : 0207-290-9222
Price : reckon on at least £200 for two.

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