Nobu, Japanese restaurant
Crown Complex, Southbank
Nobu is among the most famous japanese restaurants in Melbourne. The story behind the success of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is a pretty inspiring one. With a striking experience in Peru, you can see its influence in Nobu’s menu with modern dishes that mix south american and japanese cuisine.
However, when I heard about the “franchise” Nobu (with 25 restaurants in the world) one question came immediately to my mind: is Nobu (the person) still a chef or became a businessman? To answer this question, I went myself to this renown restaurant to test its reputation…authenticity? creativity?
With a range of prices of this level, I was expecting a beautiful interior decoration and a very intimate dining experience. The decor was indeed appealing but the whole atmosphere was not adequate for a personal dining experience.
The first feeling my girlfriend had when we went downstairs to the dinning room (upstairs being the bar) was “are we in a yumcha place?”. The place was packed with not much space between people and loud music in the background. When the waitress was speaking, we could barely hear what she was saying. I had to lean on the table or yell to chat with my gf. Because everyone has to speak up in this noisy basement, we could almost hear the conversation on the table beside…For this range of restaurant, Coco offers a more personal ambiance for a delightful experience.
Service was pretty good. We arrive on time for our booking but the table was not ready yet. Complimentary champagne helped to wait on the ground floor with the view on the Yarra river.
Despite the busy period, dishes came without a long wait, our waitress was efficient and explained us the dish ( when we could hear it). With such prices, you would expect excellent service and I think Nobu does not fail here. The only thing I would recommend is for the non-japanese staff (most of them I think) to work on their japanese pronunciation. Hearing “irashaimase” with so many different tones and mispronunciations is not a good start to show authenticity to customers. It felt so weird; like the restaurant was overdoing to convince (themselves?) it is indeed a japanese restaurant.
Value for money/taste
Prices are very high and excellent service is not enough to justify such values. I need to be impressed at the first mouthful, to get a “woah” effect, to be blowed away, to levitate at the end of the meal. During most of the meal, I didn’t levitate a single nanometer above my chair. I’ll describe each dish we had and then put the price at the end so YOU can put this in perspective
Oyster with a trio of sauces (6 pieces)
Oysters were very fresh and tasty. Not too big but this doesn’t bother me, I prefer small and delicious oysters. The 3 sauces were interesting as they exhibit distinct flavors The first one with lemon, coriander and a bit of chili. This refreshing south american flavor matches with the oyster in a “classic” way (lemon juice/oyster) with a little kick at the end as the chili leaves a nice after-taste. The second one, more japanese with ponzu sauce is a classic japanese dressing for oysters that I really start to enjoy. It doesn’t replace my french favorite shallot vinegar with a dark bread, salty butter and dry white wine. The third one was made with an onion dressing that reminded me of how oysters are cooked or baked in Mainland China with more intense flavors. Quite interesting one.
I was expecting a lot from this dish. Being in Japan for 6 months, Toro (fatty part of the tuna) is something you fall in love instantaneously. Unfortunately, no nostalgia hit me during this dish, served in a micro serve. We had a tea spoon to eat this, the caviar…well you can probably count them with the fingers of your hands and I’m not kidding. The tuna was tender but it didn’t melt the way I remember back in Japan with a strong tuna flavor that transports you into the sea.Tthe sauce is just an improved soy sauce with wasabi. That was merely at the level of a good negi-toro from a kaiten sushi in Japan but at least in Japan I wouldn’t have to pay…..$45! Yes, $45 for this! This is really crossing the line, this is really overpriced. I know toro is a rare item here but it doesn’t justify $45. If you can’t find a descent toro, either lower your price or just don’t serve it. With the overfishing of tuna, I would vote for the latter option.
Scampi Inaniwa pasta salad tossed in ceviche dressing and creamy mentaiko
This dish was the best savory dish we had this night. The scampi were fully seasoned and very creamy, the perfect way to eat scampis. A full lobster-like flavor from each bite was something I would have enjoyed even more if the pasta or udon were not that bland. Ceviche dressing, you mean lemon juice? I have the chance to have a chilean girlfriend and I had plenty of ceviche (fish cured in lemon juice and herbs). I didn’t get any feeling of having a taste of ceviche mixed with these udon. So is “ceviche dressing” just a fancy name for lemon juice for non-initiated customers who are easily impressed with names they don’t understand but are willing to pay the full price?
Beside this, I couldn’t taste much from the mentaiko (fish roe). I really enjoyed the texture of the udon and its firmness harmonises nicely with the scampi but I’m not sure if the chef was looking for a light citrus flavor to cleanse our palate or was just in lack of inspirations (and seasonings).
$40…..I wouldn’t pay that much for this dish, again, it’s because scampis are rare and highly seen as a small lobster but the dish needed more depth to justify $40. By the way, no need to remind you that there was ONE scampi.
Soft Shell Crab with Umeshu Amazu Cherry Tomatoes, Peach Aji Amarilo Salsa
A failed attempt to mix Asia and South America. The soft shell crab was nicely fried (not difficult from all the soft-shell crabs I ate) but there was no magic with the sauce. Just pieces of peach mixed with white wine or umeshu ( I couldn’t tell to be honest) sitting beside. With a beautiful presentation, the sauce and the crab were two distinct items with no consonance on the plate leaving me baffled for…$28
I actually went there with this insurance. I have a friend who highly recommended the desserts at Nobu and I was honored to met Chef Yuko to receive a description of her piece of art. This is truly remarkable (and don’t forget I ate a lot of dessert in France and in Japan). There is too much happening on one dish but I’ll try my best to describe it:
Green tea financier – like a small compact sweet madelaine with delicious bitter contrast at the end with the green tea flavor
A japanese donut filled with melting chocolate and banana to die for and surprisingly not too heavy
A chocolate fondant and green tea ice cream – the chocolate used for the fondant is a high class french chocolate delivering full dark chocolate flavors. The fondant was served warmed with a melting core of chocolate in the middle. The cool green tea icecream is a delicious alternative to vanilla icecream with chocolate fondant.
Sweet light pudding with infused fruits and a little crispy biscuit.
Mandarin and mango sorbets were so refreshing, a good cleanser between these flavors.
A sort of green tea and peach parfait was also a delight with crispy crumbles contrasted with peach and green tea mousse.
My favourite was the Suntory whisky cappuccino layered with crunchy coffee crumble, coffee crème, milk ice cream and whisky foam. The whole coffee was visually recreated with so different layers all surprising in texture and in taste. Fantastic!
Only $28! I really don’t get it. For the whole meal, there were single dishes above $40 and here, we have a symphony of desserts for $28. I think they need to lower the savory dish prices if they want a consistent menu.
Hard one to score. It’s a weird mix. Dishes were trying to be creative but failed in my opinion. The cooking staff must be japanese from what I tasted. Fortunately, Chef Yuko is able to show you the beautiful dessert you can find in Japan, a patisserie inspired by France but well balanced with light textures and japanese green tea flavors.
I would never go back to Nobu. You want a high class japanese restaurant? Continue your walk in Crown to go up in the towers for Coco. Your money will be better spent there. With such high prices, nothing has succeeded in impressing me beside the desserts of Chef Yuko.
Let’s face it, Nobu is a business, not a restaurant. The place is packed to make profit and forgets about the unique dining experience it should deliver. Nobu should visit Melbourne and do a bit of cleaning in how he envisions his melbournian restaurant. Nobu are for people who doesn’t know about japanese food and who is just looking for a place to impress by its reputation, people who are more focused on appearances than authenticity.
In my experience (it’s going to sound very funny and probably not politically correct), if you enter a japanese restaurant with non-japanese waiters, there is a high chance it’s either very tasty but very pricey or simply bland dishes covered by excellent service…Nobu is unfortunately a bit of both