Lunch at Nobu is nothing unusual. But lunch at Nobu *with* Nobu himself in attendance? That's unusual
LUNCH AT NOBU is nothing unusual (for some people). But lunch at Nobu *with* Nobu himself in attendance, who then demonstrated the restuarant's new sushi kit for delivery, with all the fish pre-cut and the wasabi pre-mixed, before inviting you to do it too? That's unusual.
After a meal of innovations (see below), a large tiered Tezukuli ('bespoke') box, perhaps two feet by one foot, was set at the end of our table. Looking somewhat like the stacked shelves you see in beehives, each layer was engraved with a subtle NOBU. The top came off and the yelps of wonder from the guests began. The first layer was filled with sushi rice, pre-sliced into rows and columns, each bar enough for a handroll.
The next layer was filled with bright strips of fish, narrow columns of yellow-fin tuna and salmon and seafood, bright green avocado and cucumber, small dishes of salmon roe. There was clearly enough for at least ten.
The final layer had the kit: wasabi dispenser, hot sauce dispenser, pots of ginger and stronger wasabi, a wooden box of seaweed wrappers, a small wooden spatula for dealing with the rice, tongs for the fish, a jar and pipette for the soy sauce and – most intriguingly – a small metal mould and what can only be described as a compressor, to make nigiri. It was either a torture kit for fish or the latest thing to turn dinner-parties upside down.
NOBU HIMSELF DEMONSTRATED that rare grace you hear about chefs possessing when using the kit (of which only five exist at the moment). He took a sheaf of seaweed and lined it up on his hand, where the fingers and the palm meet. He deftly scooped up some rice, set it on the seaweed, smoothly spread it out with the wooden spatula tip. Then he squeezed some wasabi on, a little green dribble, and added some tuna.
Now comes the science bit. You take the corner of the seaweed sitting by your little finger and fold it over the rice, halfway along the width, before rolling the restrained rice and fish up into a cone. Very important: roll it outwards, don't roll the empty seaweed in. And voila! A handrolled sushi cone. The one I made looked like frankensushi (bottom pic, left) next to Nobu's, but it tasted good. He stared at it for a while and looked puzzled.
The kit will soon be available to be picked up at Nobu Park Lane or Berkeley Street, and given the fun and relative simplicity of the procedure seems sure to beat paintball for a sophisticated team bonding ritual. I can also see dinner parties being much enlivened as you try not to get soy sauce down the Issa dress, but I'm not sure about children's birthday parties, unless fish-finger sushi is soon invented.
WHAT HAD PRECEDED was special. The menu was not your standard – yet delicious – black cod, tempura and green-tea ice cream (if you ever get to dessert). This was a suite of dishes not even on the menu yet, with new ingredients and new techniques. Tiradito, which is like ceviche or carpaccio, had the raw fish soaked in yuzu (a sour citrus fruit) and adorned with Nobu's new soy salt, grainy and all shades of red.
The watercress salad with a surprisingly meaty watercress dressing (made from the stems) had new miso salt, which was the best innovation: dry, tangy, salty. There was a plate of sea bass marinated in a vegetable off-cut sauce, which is much nicer – moist and salty – than it sounds.
And the man himself? Eloquent on how he was returning to the South American influences of his earlier days – his first restaurants were in Peru and Argentina, he said. He also revealed that he has started charging for green tea, which sounds either like a dull scoop or a belated business move, until he said that the profits are being given to a charity to help Japan after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear leak. Finally: sushi with a conscience.
The full kit: