I first came across Miss Amber Rose, model and Kayne West’s ex, at the Ashish A/W 11-12 show at London Fashion Week. “SHE” was basking in the flashlights and seated in the front row; “I” in the 5th row, which was still better than not having a seat at all. Never in a million years would I imagine that just a night after “SHE” would be shown a seat next to me at Nobu Berkeley Street. The restaurant has been, for more than half a decade, one of those kinda places that lure in glam and rich diners: suited gentlemen of Mayfair, pretty ladies, most of which arrive in their pretty black cocktail dresses, and of course celebrities. There are red ropes – no carpet – and bouncers at the front and beautiful, elegant hostesses at the reception desk. This was not my first time at Berkeley Street, though I must admit I hadn’t been to Nobu B for 2 years. During those two years, I had read, the service turned snooty, which I still have not experienced. The Front of House was accommodating, thoughtful and fairly knowledgeable.
And the food? You know, Nobu Matsuhira is a legend. His relocation to Peru in the 70s to work – as well as the lack of Japanese produce in such a continent – prompted him to incorporate Peruvian ingredients in his “Japanese” cooking. This unique cooking style soon became the benchmark of his career and in 1993 he opened the first Nobu in partnership with Robert de Niro. Now, there are, if my maths is correct, around 23 Nobus around the globe, three of which – Las Vegas, London and Berkeley Street – hold a Michelin star. Undoubtedly, there are lines of inspired chefs who have come out of the Nobu kitchen and won critical acclaimed. Say, in London, the guys at Dinings and Yashin Sushi.
I opted away from the black cod miso, the Nobu signature that has been replicated all over the world and has become, well, boring. The drink menu, considering there was a super hip bar on the ground floor, was underwhelming. Limited amount of not-so-unique cocktails and no alcoholic drinks. The tea list was brief… and a whole pot of tea could only fill two cups. Without the free refill, of course.
(1) Nobu Tacos of Lobster and Scallop + (2) New Style Tuna
There were four pieces, two deep filled with raw chopped scallops and the other with cooked and flaked lobster meat. This came with a rather tangy, very smooth guacamole. All the flavours, to us, did not combine well. The strong guacamole overpowered the more subtle flavour of the tacos. As far as an argument could go, one may opt to put less of the guacamole in? Well, then it would become just bland, lobster and scallop filled wafers? The New Style Tuna fared slightly better. Good quality sashimi lightly torched on one side, served on a bed of soy and oil dressing, and toppled with spring onion, ginger and sesame seeds. I found the sashimi drowned in the pool of oil. There was no dimension in the dressing. That said, the topping, especially the ginger, did revive the dish a little bit.
HOT DISHES AND WOOD OVEN
(3) Rock Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Spicy + (4) Snow Crab and Jalepenos + (5) Brown Rice Miso Paella with Chicken
The rock shrimp is another of Nobu favourites. This was a hit for us, too. Bouncy rock shrimps were lush; the batter, considering it was coated with the creamy spicy sauce, crispy; and above all else, there was this wooden, earthy aroma of the mushroom in the mixture. The portion was generous. I got worried, as I had ordered quite a few dishes and asked the waiter to take one order off. She had no problem at our request. That’s good service, wasn’t it? Back to the shrimp, the creamy spicy sauce had this right balance between creaminess and heat. You know, anything with mayo texture and a hint of mayo sweetness would go down well with mild chilli. This was one of those!
The Snow Crab, however, was way too spicy. It came as if a gratin dish – sizzlingly hot and with a distinct fragrance of Jalepenos – but without the cheese! The creamy spicy topping was luridly green and, as it was well heated, oozed grease. The finely sliced spring onions inside couldn’t really help lift up the flavours; the crab roe was, well, pointless as it only added sandy texture but no flavours. I did have to give some credit to the highest quality snow crab Nobu sourced, though. Very meaty, but among all that topping, the flavour of the crab, which was meant to be primary, went amiss.
And, my paella! This dish, I hate to say, would have been brilliant if I hadn’t been so filled with the greasy snow crab dish. The rice was nicely cooked and retained enjoyable bites. The miso, very subtly, sweetened the dish. The succulent chicken, pre-grilled, added another dimension of sweetness, while the mixed mushrooms, steamed with the rice in the wood oven, added earthy flavours and aroma. This was finished with the generous sprinkle of chopped chives and dried chilli strings, which gave life, freshness and mild heat to the dish. That said, this was a very, very heavy dish – as many of Nobu creations are – and having it successively after the rock shrimps and the snow crab did do me good. Say, too much of sickly sweetness and mayo-meet-miso infused grease in my mouth. This, to me, was the downfall of Nobu. You shouldn’t be ordering too many of their signature dishes at one meal as the good dishes were streamlined towards creaminess.
Grand selection of sushi and sashimi but quite ridiculously priced. Great and fatty tuna belly was priced at £8 something apiece, the same price as Kikuchi; the botan ebi was luxuriously creamy and naturally sweet, which I found reasonably priced at £5.50 apiece as they usually cost more in other high-end venues; the smelt egg gunkans were lazily wrapped and seemed falling apart; the tamago was sponge-cake-like and tasted more of a dessert than a savoury treat, though I felt the one at Yashin Sushi was much better. The rice – loose, dry and under-vinegared – was a real let down.
( 7) After Hatchi: Mint Brulee with Shiso Ice Cream + (8) Assorted Moji Ice Cream
I had a hard time ordering a dessert, not because I was so stuffed by the succession of massive dishes, but because all but one dessert dish had chocolate in. I understand, the gastronomic highlight of South America was chocolate but was there a need to have it in almost all dishes? I don’t hate chocolate but I just didn’t feel like having it! Hence? Yes, hence the moji ice cream. The skin of glutinous moji was superb and the ice cream filling was rich. There were three different flavours: ponzu sorbet – citrusy and refreshing – green tea – very dark and indulgent! – and vanilla – of course it came with chocolate coating (picture below). Argh!!!!!!
My other bib’s After Hatchi, plated up to resemble a Yin/Yang sign, was an alright dish. The brulee was silky and minty but, wait!, there was no “brulee” on the top? How could you call this a brulee, when in fact, it was cream that set… There was an equally minty flavour and aroma from the Shiso ice cream, which I found one ingredient too many. The frozen chocolate power did not add much either. Just the cold and the bitterness that didn’t particularly gel with the rest. First time I didn’t have food envy?
So, what did I make of Nobu Berkeley Street? The ambiance was vibrant; the team adequately efficient; the food was, sadly, stuck in the past and lacking in Michelin-starred refinement. Many dishes tasted, more or less, similar to each other and in this case, should I have only ordered one dish per person? Well, the table right on the other side of me, not Miss Rose’s, seemed to have done so. Two young ladies in sleek black cocktail dresses – one ordered a big bowl of edamame, a hand roll maki and a drink, the other shared the edamame, had her own drink and a bowl of ice cream. They asked for the bill the same time as we. Maybe that’s how one should enjoy Nobu. Just basking the scene, lingering on the booze and not having to care too much about the food…
But, for a similarly celeb-infested scene, a similarly high price tag but with better food, try Zuma.
My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “5 out of 10″.
NOBU BERKELEY STREET
15 Berkeley Street
Tel. 020 7290 9222
PS IF you fancy a Latino fusion treat without totally killing your salary, go for the “Third Burger” at Hawksmoor Seven Dials. They’re doing the new Mexican Bobcat with a mountain of cheese and Jalepenos. It was, truly, a fiery bliss!