Sunday, 20 December 2015

Nobu Hong Kong - Japanese doesn't get much better

I'll start off by saying I wish that I'd visited the original Nobu when we'd been in New York a few years back, it was my silly decision not to.  Instead, I'd made a visit to the Melbourne Nobu and had a  pretty mixed experience.  It's why I'd put off going to Nobu in Hong Kong for so long, that lingering doubt in my mind that renowned Japanese chef Nobuyuki (Nobu) Matsuhisa's vision didn't translate so well when the master was not overseeing the kitchen.

Known globally as the master of Japanese cuisine, Chef Nobu has a chain of restaurants that spans the globe, with accolades that include Michelin Stars and James Beard Awards.  So well recognised is Chef Nobu, he was noted as one of the eleven most influential chefs of the decade by Madrid Fusion in 2009.  Chef Nobuyuki started his dining empire with an interesting story: a collaboration with Hollywood legend Robert De Niro with whom he partnered in opening the original Nobu in New York City (1994).  I guess having a celebrity A lister as a business partner is a good way to start an empire!

Nobu Hong Kong one of the restaurants in the InterContinental, and while it doesn't have a Michelin Star it is rated as one of the 100 Top Tables in Hong Kong, usually a reliable indicator of a quality restaurant.  Continuing our recent trend of checking out lunch time menus, we'd decided to make our way over to the InterContinental on a Saturday afternoon and check out the Nobu Signature tasting lunch.  The facade of the InterContinental was quite dated, but as we walked through the lobby of the Hotel, we noted that the inside was had been completely remodelled at some point and looked pretty plush.

As we made our way up the internal stairs to Nobu, we couldn't help reflect on the amazing view of Hong Kong Island, just across the harbour.  It was a view that would dominate our lunch as we were shown to our table in the ultra modern Nobu dining area, which had expansive views of the much loved skyline.  A skyline that would have been much more spectacular if we'd made our way over for dinner!

But, we'd specifically come along to check out the Nobu Signature Lunch menu, so any regrets that we didn't have that spectacular nighttime light show that is HK harbour had to be set aside for another time.  

Our first course set the scene for a remarkable lunch.  Any doubts that I'd had from my first Nobu experience in Melbourne were dispelled by the delivery of a beautifully simple and elegant dish of salmon tartare with caviar.  Sitting in larger bowls of ice, a small blue bowl was filled with finely diced salmon, then topped with a healthy serve of caviar.  The salmon was incredibly fresh and well supported by a sweet ponzu sauce, which was superbly enhanced by the salty caviar.  The three ingredients were very well balanced, with no flavour dominating the plate.  Interestingly, there was a fourth component sitting on the side of the dish, a peachberry, which was a super fresh little palate cleanser at the end of the course.

Raw fish continued with a simply prepared plate of Yellowtail sashimi with a slice jalapeño sitting atop.  The three slices of Yellowtail were again incredibly fresh, with a thin drizzling of ponzu sauce, but I did find the addition of raw jalapeño an interesting one.  The jalapeño was incredibly harsh and completely overpowered the subtle sweetness of the fish, leaving a burning aftertaste on my palate.  I only ate one of the pieces of fish with the hot chilli pepper before deciding that the fish was much better off without it.  

While I found the jalapeño on the Yellowtail to be a little too much, our next course was a study in how to perfectly balance a dish.  The Rock Shrimp tempura with a creamy spicy sauce was delightful in every way.  The tempera was so light that it was barely there, allowing the natural sweet flavour of the shrimp to shine.  The creamy sauce was ever so slightly spicy, but a sweet spice as opposed to the harsh raw chilli hit from the previous dish.  The light covering of the sauce didn't impact the tempura batter, providing a crunch to the very end.  There were pieces of mushroom for a contrasting earthy flavour to the sweet shrimp.

The beauty of Japanese cooking at its best is its simplicity and the Black Cod cooked with Saikyo Yaki was a study in simplicity itself.  The exquisitely cooked cod had a dark sweet glaze from the cooking process, in fact, so perfectly cooked that the individual flakes of the fish could be peeled off one at a time.  The glaze was just the right level of sweetness to allow the fresh flavour of the Cod to shine through.  Just perfect!

We moved from the simplicity of perfectly cooked cod to perfectly cooked beef, with the grilled U.S. prime beef.  Presented with a deep fried mushroom with a star carved out of it's cap and a roasted cherry tomato, the beef was again a study in restraint, where less was more.  The beef was a perfect medium rare and covered in more of that wonderful ponzu sauce, which I've always found to be the right match for beef.  The mushroom was interesting, the texture was slightly crispy and it had a thin coating as if it had gone through a tempura as well.  It was quite a small serving of beef though and I'd have loved just a little bit more.

A Japanese meal would not be complete without some sushi and miso, which interestingly were given as the last couple of savoury dishes.  It was the first time I'd ever had a Japanese meal where miso and the sushi were not the first two courses.  The assortment of sushi included some fatty tuna, which was just incredible, a super fresh prawn with a light sweet sauce sitting atop and a couple of pieces of California roll.  My favourite by far was the fatty tuna, the texture and flavour were superb and left me wanting more.  

I'd love to say that the Nobu miso soup was mind blowing, but I can't.  Miso is miso and it was pretty much standard but no less enjoyable.  I just found it weird that it was the last course before dessert!

The Nobu menu called dessert 'Patisserie Corner', which was a little bit misleading.  Our dessert was both interesting and simple at the same time, but it certainly wasn't patisserie!  It was a little cappuccino of whisky foam and coffee ice cream, which had me a little worried to begin with as I've never liked whisky.  My first tentative mouthful was quite the revelation, there was none of the harsh whisky burn from the alcohol, only the sweetness.  When combined with the cooling ice cream and a little crunch from some crumble on the bottom of the cup, the whole dessert was wonderful (although visually, it was a bit anticlimactic).

By the time lunch was over, there was a surprising number of diners in the restaurant.  We'd been one of the first to arrive (big surprise, hey!) and thought it was going to be a pretty quiet day in Nobu, but a steady stream of diners had continued to pile in.  With quite a busy service, we had pretty good service from the staff, although there was an uncomfortably long wait between our fish course and our last couple of courses.  Long enough for us to think about asking if they'd forgotten us! Our last couple of dishes did come out with an apology though.

The interior of Nobu HK has an interesting story behind it, designed with a unique undulating sea urchin ceiling, along with a cascade of black river stone frames depicting images of Japanese cherry blossom.  At one point, there was a group of people wandering through who we initially thought were food bloggers (each with a huge camera), who ended up just taking photos of the interior design and then leaving.

My second visit to a Nobu was much more satisfying than my first, with some incredible pieces of simple cooking that seemed to represent Japanese cuisine perfectly.  I'm now even more disappointed that I chose not to check out Nobu while in NYC, but at least it gives me a reason to head back to the Big Apple.  Well, another reason..

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