Given that I’m currently looking for a job and trying to cut back on the finer things in life, Nobu is probably the last place I deserved to be. But a Saturday night treat was in store. After a brief cock-up with the taxi which meant I had to dash to the tube so that rather than pulling up smoothly outside of the front door, I arrived sweating and out-of-breath, I found myself strolling though the heavily manned grand white entrance, and stepping inside the world of Nobu.
I joined the rest of my crowd standing by the bar using the light from their phones to read the menu. We asked a passing waiter if there were any tables we could sit at, and even though there were about ten spare, he still took time to look us up and down before saying he’d see what he could do. Five minutes later he returned and gave us the best seat in the house. We had arrived early for a few cocktails and a chance to soak the place up, and the table we had was ideal for people watching. It’s hard not to be taken by the place, with the seductive lighting, the blasting funky house music and the crowd of wealthy and glamorous people. You could easily be in a Vegas nightclub, or on the set of Made In Chelsea. So we sat back and observed the catwalk to the toilet. A little note before coming is that you really do need to practise that strut.
Now I thought the point was here was that they serve you as many expensive cocktails as possible so that you are less inclined to cry at the price of food upstairs. This obviously wasn’t the case. We ordered- three Rising Sun Margaritas and Japanese Mojito (£14 each)- but it was twenty minutes later that our cocktails arrived, by which time our table was ready. The Mojito was nothing special, a little too sweet, but easily drinkable. The Margaritas were served with a stick of honey which I managed to get all over my chin and jacket, and they were strong and great.
Upstairs we again had a great table, and we were presented with the menus by a waiter who might as well have been checking our tickets to be there. The first thing that hits you is the price. Expect double figures for everything. But this is Nobu- Nobu Berkeley Street, at that- and the people here tend not to check the right hand column. The second thing is just how much there is to choose from. The menu is easy enough to navigate your way round, but a helpful waiter would really be appreciated at this point. We almost had one. He was helpful enough to recommend the most expensive specials, but any conversation further than that was too much to ask for.
First came the soft shell crab. It was great as it should be, but not as good as Roka’s and about half the size and the dip it came with needed more of a kick. Next was the baby tiger shrimp tempura with a trio of sauces- ponzu, jalepeno and spicy creamy. These were juicy and the tempura was light and crispy and the jalepeno sauce, although not spicy, was delicious.
Next came the sushi- salmon and avocado rolls- lovely, although no different to any other Japanese restuarant. The salmon teriyaki was a succulent fillet, perfectly cooked, although at £30 with a bowl of boiled rice and miso soup (a set dinner combination) far too expensive. The black cod- the signature dish- was excellent, as it’s hefty price tag (£35) meant it should be. Then came the crispy pork belly with spicy miso, succulent and full of flavour, although without any trace of spicy miso. Last was a Wagyu beef dish with truffled mushrooms that had us dabbing up the sauce with every last grain of rice.
We ordered four desserts- a banana split that supposedly had a saffron crumble, the Nobu Chocolate Tart that comes with all of the show of pouring hot chocolate sauce onto a chocolate sphere, melting it to reveal the tart beneath, Mochi (Japense rice cake) filled with coconut ice cream that were by far the best, and the last was some sort of trifle with a green tea sponge. The desserts were tasty and quickly demolished, as anything drowned in rich chocolate sauce would be.
Overall the food was great, without anything really standing out. It was how good Japanese should be- fresh, clean cut and simply presented. But you can probably count the price of each bite at Nobu, which works out at about £5. The portions here are designed for the tight waisted glamorous women who eat here, and you’ll need to order at least 3-4 dishes per person to get your fill.
What really lets Nobu down is the service. Three times the waiter whisked away food before we had finished. And not once was there any real attempt to make us feel welcome. At 15% service charge, the highest I’ve seen in London, it should be a lot better. All I can think is that service is their way of making you pay for the privilege of being there, of being allowed through those front doors into this glamorous world.
I’d recommend Nobu to everybody, not for the food, but just to see it and so that you can say you’ve been. I have complained about the prices, but I will inevitably go back. You can’t not enjoy yourself. The atmosphere is infectious. That’s what Nobu is. You’re paying for an experience. You give them a hundred pound a head, and for two hours you feel like part of the in-crowd, and I guess for a lot of people that is enough to keep them going back. There are far better Japanese restaurants in London, and even if you want to pay top prices, you’re much better off doing so at Zuma, Hakkasan or Roka, but Nobu still has a glamorous appeal to it, and you leave feeling more than satisfied (although admittedly still slightly hungry).