8 Whiteman St
Southbank VIC 3006
+61 3 9696 6566
As some of you may recall, my sister Janice received a commendable study score of 43 for her 3/4 subject which she was doing this year as part of her yr.11 studies. She had been dying to go to Nobu for ages so Adam and I made a deal with her whereby if she received a study score (raw) over 36, then she gets a free meal at Nobu which, as most of you know, is a famous fusion restaurant that marries Japanese and South American cuisines together. Which she got last night. A booking was made two weeks ago for the sorta-weird time of 6:45pm, provided that we are out by 8:45pm. On the phone, I had asked for a time closer to 6pm because we Indonesians love to eat early but the earliest time they had was 6:45pm because all the earlier sittings were full. Fine with us, we thought. So after Janice clocked off work for the day, we trained up to the city and arrived a good hour early. We arranged to meet Adam at Movida Next Door for some croquettes only to be told by Adam that there was going to be a one hour wait for a free table. Oh, and he reckons he saw Geoffrey Rush sipping on a glass of something there too.
Anyway, we meandered around Crown Casino for a while before we got bored so we figured that showing up at Nobu a bit earlier and sitting at the bar wouldn’t hurt. We arrived at 6:30pm and apologised to the waif half-cast Asian chick hostess for being early and whether it was okay to sit at the bar. She told us that we were free to do that but if we wanted to, she could sit us straight away. Awesome, we thought, as we followed her downstairs to the dining room. The first thing I noticed was not how cool the apparently $10 million Soho-meets-TriBeCa fit-out looked but the fact that the dining room was practically EMPTY. At 6:30pm on a Saturday night, I would not have batted an eyelid because we all know that the cool and hip don’t eat until at least 8pm (clearly I’m not cool and hip). No, the reason why I choose to mention this was because the lady on the phone had told me that THE PLACE WAS GOING TO BE PACKED. I don’t know about you, but a dining room at 5% capacity is NOT full. So, we see couples sitting in cushy booths dotted around the room but trust the hostess to seat us in a round table smack-bang in the middle of the room. Grr.
I’m sorry.. sucky photo…
Not wanting to let such minor things get to us, we got about ordering our stuff. After brushing aside the wine list and ordering some lemon squashes, we picked about seven dishes off the a la carte menu for us three to share. Knowing that the portions were going to be somewhat on the anorexic side, we asked our waiter if these seven dishes were going to be enough to feed us all. The waiter told us that seven dishes was definitely enough so we left it at that and twiddled our thumbs and tried not to get pissy every time a new lot of diners walked in, prompting all the Nobu staff to yell out “IRASSHAIMASE!” every. single. effing. time. Sure, the first time was cute but after that, it just became bloody ANNOYING and was it really necessary?!
The first dish that came out was the Yellowtail Sashimi With Jalapeno ($22), apparently one of Nobu’s signature dishes. Six slices of seamless yellowtail tuna blanketed in a tangy yuzu and soy sauce. Now Janice hasn’t really been exposed to raw fish (apart from smoked salmon) so she approached this dish with a little hesitation but she need not have worried. This dish, I reckon, is a good introduction those who aren’t familiar with eating raw fish. Somehow, the fresh taste of the tuna strikes the palate first, followed by the spicy tang of the dressing while the brash, hot spurt of the jalapenos hit you at the aftertaste. Delicious!
The weirdly-named “Spicy Miso Chips” ($12 for four) came out next. The “chips” referred to the four sliced lotus roots, two of which carried a slice of raw scallop and the other two raw tuna. The icing on the little critters was a smidgen of something that tasted like a lemony sweet chilli sauce. The fish was fresh enough (though I’ve had better sashimi at Shoya and Shira Nui), the dressing was nice enough, the lotus roots definitely made for great “chips” and the little thingies looked cute as they were but it wasn’t a terribly WOW dish.
Another raw fish dish. Just as well Janice was getting adjusted so she would’ve had a fit. The “New Style Whitefish Sashimi” ($18) was up next and although we had no idea what “new style” meant, we figured that it would be something interesting so we decided to give that a go. According to the waiter, the new style sashimi cooking method is where a sashimi is dressed with soy and citrus juice on a plate, with hot oil being poured over it so that the sashimi is effectively being seared. At this point, I decided that this dish was my favourite one so far. I liked the saltiness of the soy mashed with the sourness of the lemon juice, the slight fruitiness of the olive oil and the nuttiness of the sesame oil and seeds. I loved the way the fresh whitefish absorbed the juices very well and I loved that each bite of the whitefish induced a numbing effect in my mouth. Yum!
I’ve heard great things about the beef fillet tataki ($22) so that was what we got next. Having featured in John Lethlean’s “To Die For” feature in The Age in mid-2008, my expectations of this dish were quite high. The dish was good enough – thick slices of seared beef were slightly cooked on the outside and practically raw within, a warm fruity ponzu dressing, crispy garlic chips and sliced spring onions provided company. While the tangy sauce was nice enough, I felt that the dressing was too “citrus-y” and somewhat overpowered the already flavoursome sweet meat. Yes, it was nice but definitely not the best I’ve had. In fact, Horoki does a better version at a cheaper price.
The lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing ($36) was as big as we got tonight. Yeah, it may look big in the photo but when you realise that 95% of the salad consists of salad leaves, the fact that there were only 4 (admittedly sweet, juicy) pieces of cooked lobster might disappoint. Plus, I felt that the lemon dressing was too “sharp” that I had to wince everytime I shoveled a chopstick-full of leaves into my mouth. I think this was the point where I started to get a little frustrated with Nobu. Every dish, so far, tasted strangely similar to each other – all with lemony, citrusy notes that were starting to piss me off. I know that it was probably my fault for ordering these dishes but hey, I had no idea what they would be like! I was also starting to think that the whole “applying South American concepts to Japanese cuisine” thing was only limited to “creviche-ing” every single dish that involved raw fish. Hm. With two dishes still to go and with our tummies still rumbling like a V-line train, we all decided that we were actually ready to go. But first, the last two dishes…
Soft shell crab kara age ($20 for 20). Apparently Nobu “invented” the soft shell crab kara age so we ordered this dish, thinking that it’d be something special. We received a plate with two soft shell crabs fried in tempura battar along with a leaf of some sort and a shiitake mushroom, both fried in tempura batter (um, why?!). Pink murray river salt and a tablespoon of pepper accompanied the lemon dressing that was held in a soup spoon, used to dip the pieces of crab in. This dish did nothing for me and certainly was no better than any other soft shell crab I’ve ever had, including ones I’ve had at dingy Chinese-Vietnamese joints in Victoria St, Richmond. Clearly not the most prettiest thing we ordered, and certainly not the best tasting thing too – in fact, it would have to be the dish I liked least.
Finally, the most anticipated dish came: the black cod with miso, THE dish that apparently sends people into orbit. Apparently marinated in sweet miso for three days beforehand, a piece of cod is baked to perfection before being presented with sticks of hajikami (ginger) and dots of the same sauce used to marinate the fish. I wasn’t sure how this dish was going to taste but I was surprised to find that it was unbelievably sweet, like kecap manis sweet. After recovering from the unexpected taste, I was slowly being drawn to the sweet, delicate flesh of the mod which easily peeled away with even the slightless nudge of a chopstick and which melted within a second of putting it into your mouth. A sensation. At $42 a pop, it’s not cheap but it’s probably the one thing you should order if you’re at Nobu. (I also have to mention, however, that Adam thought it was “yuck” and Janice said that it was only just “alright”).
So that concluded our Nobu experience. And guess what folks?! We were STILL HUNGRY! Now wasn’t THAT a surprise?! The waiter promptly presented Adam us with the bill which came to $178, including drinks, which surprised me a little because I was expecting to pay well over $200 for dinner. We had the option of ordering more dishes but after consulting with the other two, we decided that we didn’t really want to stay at Nobu anymore. The allure was starting to wane, we were getting sick of the Nobu staff loudly greeting guests every 5 minutes, we were getting sick of the deafening doof doof music that vibrated around the wooden fit-out and frankly, we weren’t sure whether we could taste yet another dish that had more lemons in it than that lemon tree in that Simpsons episode. I promptly got out my PINK Mastercard to signal that we had enough, waited for the card to come back… and watched the waiter plonk the card and receipt in front of ADAM again. Yeah, what kind of effed up guy would have a name like “Libby” and carry around a pink card… Heck, even I am now ashamed of that card…So we left Nobu and went straight to… Dumplings Plus on Swanston Street for spring onion pancakes, dumplings and lamb wraps.
So yes, Nobu was definitely an experience that I don’t regret… but not one that I am happy to repeat again in the near future. Trying to figure out Nobu could give you a headache. Being there certainly can. If the dining room’s thumping doof doof house music doesn’t drown out your dinner conversation, then the waiters yelling out “IRASSHAIMASE!” every five minutes will. The food, while good, isn’t enough to lure return visits, particularly in Melbourne where you can easily find 10 billion other Japanese places that will make you twice as happy, and not as broke either. Service-wise, I was surprised to find that most of the staff (apart from the waif who greeted us) were not as pretentious and rude as I thought. Still, it took me a while to decide whether I should include a tip at the end or otherwise. Sure, none of them did anything bad but the whole experience was that it wasn’t remarkable enough to warrant a tip according to Adam. In the end, I left them a tip but not a particularly big one.As some of you know, the French paradox is the food world’s best known contradiction: How can the residents of Tinsletown consume all that rich cuisine and be so frustratingly slim? Well, simply because they all go to Nobu. It is clear that while Nobu may win the hearts of the thin-is-in crowd in LA, but for Melburnians with an appetite the size of Warnie’s test wicket haul, there are way better places to go for Japanese.