Before my date and I had a chance to take in the room, in all its undulating splendour, our waiter was on top of us.
‘You just tell me what you feel like, and I’ll get you set up.’ Kevin revealed that he worked with the Miami branch of what can only be described as the most successful and expensive Japanese fine dining chain in the world (Nobu has 15 prestigious outlets aside from Dubai). So how does the newest version compare with Miami?
‘Miami’s just like one big party, man,’ he said, his hand making a kind of gangsta, karate chop gesture. I was half expecting Bill and Ted to emerge from the kitchen, in aprons, giving each other high fives and describing the sushi as ‘excellent!’
Kevin, it turned out, had expensive tastes. He directed us towards the Dhs495 bottle of saki (which we declined), the Dhs107 yellowtail appetiser, and the Dhs200 black cod entrée.
‘Is he a waiter or a salesman?’ my companion grumbled, leading me to wonder how the staff’s hard sell stance was going to gel with Dubai’s populace. The British expats, I knew, would probably not be too keen on it.
Kevin encouraged us to order in 30-minute spurts. We started with the recommended yellowtail appetiser, which, salesmanship aside, was a glorious dish. Paper-thin layers of fish came topped with a dainty slice of jalapeño, a couple of coriander sprigs, and a simple, fruity, yuzu-soy marinade. It very elegantly engaged all the taste buds. But, as wonderful as this primer was, it couldn’t match the beauty of the subsequent plate of sliced hammour with dried miso and garlic chips, which was just as sexy as sexy could be. The miso was as musty as a crypt, and it had a seductive, mysterious effect on the fish, whose soft flesh quivered under the crunchy shards of crimson powder.
But, though this dish had me in raptures, my delight was somewhat dampened because it, and several others on the menu, had been around the block a few too many times. Most, if not all (I haven’t surveyed enough to know for sure) of the Nobu outlets boast this item, as well as the now-classic black cod with miso, which Kevin also willed me to order. It is no wonder the cod – served rare and as soft as a puddle under a sweet, tar-like miso brûlée – is one of the chain’s staples, as it’s absolutely brilliant. But a rehash of a classic can’t help but feel a little less special (a third edition lithograph is never as valuable as the first).
Kevin was excited when he found out my companion was quasi-vegetarian. ‘Excellent! We have a great vegetarian menu; I’ll hook you up.’ He read off a list of options, but we stuck to an artichoke salad with soba noodles, a combo that wasn’t quite as satisfying as the previous courses. While the soba noodles were juicy and perfectly al dente, the artichoke that topped the salad was a bit dry and spindly, and the miso dressing, which came on a number of dishes, was starting to feel ubiquitous.
Things looked up with the final savoury dish (Kevin twisted my arm… really): king crab shiso, aka, crab three ways. In one bowl lay the softest, plushest crab tempura I’ve ever experienced, though I would have preferred if it didn’t arrive drenched in miso broth. More soft crab in a miso broth with garlic chips and seaweed hit too similar a note to the tempura, though a giant king crab leg with shisho (Japanese mint) salsa and strings of chilli was a welcome and smouldering finish to a very good meal.
Well, a near finish that is. Of course we felt we couldn’t leave Nobu without dessert, though as it turned out, we could have. The restaurant’s selection of sweets lacked the imagination of the mains. The chocolate bento was little more than a molten lava cake, served with green tea ice cream, and the Nobu cheesecake was too silken and too wet.
So what to make of Nobu? Is it excellent? Undoubtedly. Worth the price and wait? I’m not so sure. If this branch could bring something new to the table – if Nobu Matsuhisa were no longer phoning his recipes in – I’d say it was. But considering you can get the same food and treatment in any of the other 15 less-hyped outlets, it might be worth saving this brand for a trip abroad.
The bill (for two)
1x Large Fiji water Dhs35
1x Small Onigoroshi saki Dhs85
1x Edamame Dhs24
1x Jalapeno yellowtail Dhs107
1x Dried miso hammour Dhs84
1x Artichoke salad Dhs90
1x Black cod Dhs200
1x King crab shiso Dhs170
1x Nobu cheesecake Dhs45
1x Chocolate bento Dhs50
Total (including service) Dhs890