Metropolitan by COMO
19 Old Park Lane
London W1k 1LB
Tel. 020 7447 4747
Food type: Japanese Fusion
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner
Website: Nobu (Mayfair)
Nobu Old Park Lane, as well as its sister restaurant on Berkeley Street had previously held a Michelin Star for a long period of time before they were both demoted in the 2014/15 guide. I wonder how much that demotion has actually impacted on their business. Judging on our recent visit on a Saturday night, I would guess not very much. The restaurant was packed with young, hip and trendy with girls in outfits so skimpy you wonder if their intention was to indulge in naked sushi. Then again, maybe I am turning into an old foggy. The original Nobu London opened in 1997 and it is a testament to the brands power and unique food that it remains relevant in today’s fickle, trendy dining scene. The website does not advertise it very well, but the restaurant is located in the Metropolitan by COMO hotel on Park Lane which location provides a lovely backdrop if you are lucky enough to snare a window seat with views of Hyde Park.
The menu at all the Nobu restaurants worldwide feature chef Matsuhisa’s brand of Japanese/ Peruvian fusion which may not be the most obvious choice of cuisines to fuse. However, with the Nobu brand being a success, with 22 restaurants worldwide, the dining crowd has certainly fallen in love with his unique cooking style. I have to hold up my hand in honesty and admit that being a purist of Japanese cooking, I have never bothered visiting Nobu until my friend decided that by hook or by crook he would drag me there for my first experience. The menu during dinner is extensive and there are even two tasting menus – a classic and omakase (featuring newer creations). I left the menu navigation to my friend who basically ordered half the menu.
We started off with some sashimi dishes. Yellowtail with jalapeño is one of the restaurants signatures and is a good example of the Japanese/ Peruvian fusion style. The fish had plenty of umami notes from the sauce with the jalapeño giving a background heat without overwhelming the fish. On safer ground was a classic tuna tataki with ponzu topped with small dollops of caviar. The tuna was nicely seared with only the exterior receiving any heat and the ponzu had a nice acidity to cut through its richness. The last helping was a toro tartar with caviar which was a favourite with everyone. It is hard to dislike fatty tuna belly with caviar.
Moving on to the salad course, my favourite was a salad of baby spinach with king crab. This salad is relatively simple but addictively moreish with the addition of crispy shreds of parmesan which gave the dish texture and an umami boost. The tuna sashimi salad with Matsuhisa’s signature dressing and summer rolls (Vietnamese spring roll) was fine but we were all not very keen on the summer rolls for some reason. Finally, a spicy lobster salad featured tender lobster with the dressing having sufficient kick which was balanced by the acidity from the lemon.
For our sushi selection, we tried both the classical nigiri sushis as well as the more modernistic takes on sushi. The classic nigiri was fine by London standard, but having only visited the Araki a few days prior, I don’t think you need me to point out that this is not on the same level. More intriguing however were the crispy rice cakes with spicy chopped tuna – Matsuhisa’s creative take on sushi. The elements are still there – the rice and raw fish but in different forms. This may be sacrilegious for sushi purist but I really enjoyed it! Also who can ignore his tuna tacos which are amazingly great with a few glasses of sake.
Next is the course that Matsuhisa is most famous for – miso black cod. This dish is much beloved and now much replicated (read: copied) all over town. At its core, it is a relatively simplistic dish – a fillet of black cod (which is different to the regular cod found in your local chippy) is marinated with white miso and soy before being grilled. The key here is the balance of the sweet-salty-umami as a counterpoint to the fattiness of the black cod. Although plenty of competitors may serve it on their menu, the version at Nobu is the best for it has perfected the marinade. A second fish dish of crispy sea bass with quinoa was less interesting – food created for today’s health conscious. To be honest, the bass was slightly overcooked and dry, there wasn’t any sauce of description which would helped offset the problem. A Chilean sea bass fared much better. The fish was marinated with a paste made from pickled vegetables and miso which gave a nice vegetal note alongside the umami from the miso.
With our meat course we were tried beef & wagyu toban yaki. Ok, the idea here is great – cooking the beef on a hot ceramic plate which is presented at the table. The lid of the ceramic plate is lifted revealing the beef which was overcooked. I suspect that the beef itself was perfectly timed when it was at the pass, but when it is covered with a lid, the residual heat within continued to cook the beef past its best – more medium well than medium rare. On the other hand, new season lamb with teriyaki sauce was evidence that the kitchen had no problems with timing of meat with the lamb cooked to a perfect medium rare. The final savoury course was a bowl of miso soup with somen noodles which was fine.
For desserts, we tried their signature chocolate fondant served with green tea ice cream in a bento box. The fondant was rich, chocolatey and most importantly had a runny centre and I loved the green tea ice cream alongside. The idea of serving it in a bento box was a bit ‘naff but fun at the same time. A second dessert of coconut mousse and raspberry sorbet was well made if unexciting.
On a whole, I enjoyed my meal at Nobu. The fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavours were certainly unique and surprisingly worked. There were however a few execution errors with the overcooked sea bass and beef, with the latter a result of trying to offer some table side theatre but failing on the cooking front. While on this occasion I did not have to worry about the bill since it was a treat from a friend, looking at the prices online (£85 and £100 for the two tasting menus) such execution errors is hard to justify given its price point. As a side note, I appreciate that some restaurants do need to turn tables over especially during a busy Saturday night. However, this could have been handled with a little more tact instead of the waiter just plonking the bill down on the table without it being requested. I’m glad I got to try Nobu’s style of fusion cuisine but I don’t think I will be rushing back here any time soon.