The hype surrounding the opening of Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Nobu Singapore has been palpable — more than two weeks after the celebrity restaurant opened in the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, it is already fully booked till end-August.
This explains our surprise when the restaurant’s entrance led to a quiet bar. All expectations of a flashy and bustling dining atmosphere, which is synonymous with restaurants by celebrated chef and restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa — dissipated quickly. It turns out all the buzz and energy is contained in the main dining area, which is separated by a sculpted outdoor Japanese garden.
We visited Nobu on a Thursday for dinner and it was teeming with swanky and well-heeled diners dressed to impress as they filled up the seats beneath leafy botanical-themed ceilings lit up by lights that resemble a dreamy trail of floating candles. The incessant convivial chatter was only upped by the yells of Japanese greetings and the cavernous sushi counter had five chefs doling out delicacies simultaneously — the excitement was discernible.
The Four Seasons Hotel Singapore has pulled out all stops for its most prolific restaurant — yet. Nobu’s Singapore was orchestrated by Mr Ong Beng Seng, who is the managing director of Hotel Properties Limited, which runs the Four Seasons Singapore, as well as Nobu London. For years, Nobu has been a fixture in the food line-up in the Paddock Club at Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, which is also backed by Mr Ong. The hotel has converted an indoor tennis court into the main dining area, lowering the ceiling to carve up a more cosy setting.
Food-wise, Nobu Singapore has opted for the tried-and-test route — signature dishes and menu stalwarts (the ones you have heard about decades ago) are parked under ‘Classic’ and more recent dishes are under ‘Now’ section. There are no Singapore-exclusive dishes (for now) except for the Nobu Soju Dragon ($27), an invigorating cocktail concocted with dragonfruit, its house-brand soju and St Germain.
Almost all of the dishes are served in other Nobu restaurants, some have been around for decades with some diners recalling that they had the exact same dish in another chapter of their lives.
We hear that the restaurant, led by executive chef Hideki Maeda (he has been with the group for close to three decades), will add Singapore-centric creations in the coming months, coupled with the opening of the teppanyaki private rooms.
The evergreen appeal of Nobu’s food lies in how traditional Japanese flavours such as miso and dashi are accentuated with a twist of acidity and heat in its sauces and condiments.
The sauces in the trio of appetisers we nibbled on elevated the excitement of the yellowtail, salmon and tuna. The signature yellowtail jalapeno ($39) can be a tad underwhelming unless you fastidiously dab the sweet and buttery fish in the pool of ponzu soy sauce. For a more pompous start, the meltingly soft Salmon Tataki Karashi Sumiso delights with tangy miso mustard and a crunchy crown of julienned onions and peppers.
Our favourite dish is the Black Cod Miso ($68) — the iconic dish that launched the Nobu empire and spawned a thousand copycats in other restaurants. Apparently, this dish floored Robert De Niro so much that he approached Nobu Matsuhisa to become restaurant partners. And the rest is history.
Sweeter than the traditional Japanese version, the cod is marinated in white miso, mirin and sugar, which brightens up the palate with a piquant sweetness as we went slack-jawed over the meaty fish with a caramelised crust that flaked elegantly when forked. The condiments make the dish more well-rounded — the preserved ginger root injects tartness that offsets the oiliness of the cod, while the apricot rounds off the dish on a deeper sweet note.
If you like your meat served with a side of flaming theatrics, the Anticucho Peruvian-style ribeye steak ($75) should light up your appetite However, we were too distracted by the tableside flames to realise that the portion of the plump beef slices didn’t quite matched the hefty price tag.
We like the Beef Toban Yaki ($56) better, which is also from Kagoshima A5 beef. The tenderloin is roasted in a ceramic pan with asparagus and mushrooms to yield a robust stock redolent of juices from the beef. The nigiri, which was presented in a show-stopping platter, was exquisitely executed, with the stand-out being the kinmedai layered with shiso leaf for a hint of bitterness.
Desserts go beyond the usual chocolate lava cake (though there is one on the menu) — save space for the Japanese strawberry cake ($21) coated in white chocolate and almonds and pillow-soft cheesecake ($22) with a creme brulee-like top and a tart raspberry wasabi sorbet.
Our night at Nobu ticked almost all the boxes of a glamorous night out and the food did the prowess of the brand justice. But we couldn’t help but feel that something was amiss — we cannot wait to see how Nobu Singapore push the envelope beyond its fabled realm of classics in the coming months and hopefully get a dining experience that wow diners from the very first step.
Find out more: Nobu Singapore