If there’s one thing that I know about the actor par excellence Robert De Niro, it is the fact that the man has exceptionally good taste. Whenever he sees a gem, he grabs it. And the gem in this story is Nobu Matsuhisa, the Japanese-trained sushi chef who have worked in Japan, Peru, Argentina and the United States, namely California and New York. So, when I heard that he waited almost four years for Nobu to finally say yes in opening a restaurant with him, we all knew something big was in store, so special that the Hollywood doyen of The Godfather II and The Intern fame, among others, didn’t mind waiting.
But it’s a mistake to think that Nobu-san had it easy from the start; with back-to-back tragedies to the point that he even considered taking his own life, Nobu-san’s path to success is nothing short of inspiring, which the public can read in his autobiography entitled ‘Nobu: A Memoir’. Today, the number of his eponymous restaurants set up in partnership with Robert De Niro together with several other like-minded investors has now grown to 38 and spread across five continents.
Recently on one clear evening, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to dine at Nobu Kuala Lumpur, located on the 56th floor of Petronas Tower 3, which is Nobu’s first outpost in South East Asia. The dimly-lit restaurant looks gorgeous, partly due to the 360-degree metropolitan view of the cityscape, as well as being cladded with welcoming natural materials. A sushi bar greets diners at the entrance. As they step further in, diners will realise that they are entering the dining area that is amalgamated with a central wooden bar that serves various refreshing beverages and personally-scaled lounge that overlooks the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. My companions and I were greeted by Alexander Tito (Alex), Nobu Kuala Lumpur’s Assistant Restaurant Manager, whom if I remember correctly previously served Nobu Dubai for a few years; being the charming host as he is, he swiftly whisked us to our seats and enlightened us on the innovative culinary ride that we were about to embark.
The first dish that arrived were two plates of tuna and lobster tacos (MYR18 and MYR20 per pice respectively), a clever tribute to Nobu’s Peruvian influence comprising tacos stuffed with fresh seafood topped with exhilarating jolt of spices. The dish was delicious, and I would gladly order it again. The next dish – baby tiger shrimp tempura in creamy spicy (MYR72) – proved to be an equally gratifying appetiser. However, my personal favourite from the menu is what came next: yellowtail with jalapeno dressing (RM78), which is fresh, deliciously on point and full of contrasting strands of flavours derived from jalapeno and coriander. Mind you, I’m not the person who is fond of sashimi, but after what I had that night, I think the dish has jumped straight into my list of top five. This is indeed a star dish that is bound to please sashimi-aficionados. Quietly, I sneaked one more piece into my mouth without my companions looking…
Imaya, my dining companion, loved the melt-in-the-mouth new-style salmon sashimi (MYR80) that comes with Southeast Asian tension of saltiness from the yuzu soy sauce with enough heat from ginger and spring onion creeping into the slightly seared fish – Alex suggested that this would be an ideal dish for those who cannot tolerate eating raw fishes, thus I have earmarked it as one of the dishes that I must try when I visit Nobu Kuala Lumpur again.
For those who prefer dishes other than sashimi, beef toban yaki (MYR120), sushi unagi with avocado (MYR40) and the house special sushi (MYR50) are excellent options. On top of these, I also savoured the dragon fruit salad ceviche (MYR80), which brought back memories to the dish I had in Fiji called kokoda. Tasting almost similar in a way, the salad features slices of cured fresh raw fish seasoned with citrusy juices and creamy coconut milk, served within dragon fruit rind.
For food that is more substantial, the pan seared arctic char with wasabi palm sugar (MYR130) – a dish that melds the succulent flavour of the sea with delightful hint of wasabi-laced sweetness – is a definite wise choice. Another must-try is the sweet black cod with miso (MYR150), which is uniformly soft and hits the right spot.
My companions and I also imbibed a selection of reinvigorating mocktails in between meals, with Pepino (MYR28) being my absolute favourite, concocted from fresh cucumber juice, lychee juice and lemon, so refreshing that I finished it all at an astonishing pace – and I didn’t regret it.
We ended the evening with yoghurt sub zero (MYR55), a yoghurt ice cream topped with fresh berries drizzled in blueberry sauce, together with the showstopper chocolate sphere (MYR60) that looks like a pretty orb on a plate when it arrived but then dramatically collapses after Alex poured piping hot and thick melted chocolate over it.
Besides the exceptional menu that I’ve mentioned, Nobu Kuala Lumpur’s level of service also deserves an applause – the employees are remarkably attentive and ensure that each course swiftly and smoothly flows in and out of the table. There was once when my chopstick fell on the floor, a new pair was brought to me as a replacement almost immediately. The staff seems to know the menu by heart, patiently explaining to every diner with grace and poise, further adding to the credibility of the establishment.
In conclusion, Nobu Kuala Lumpur undoubtedly offers diners from this side of the world the opportunity to relish Nobu Matsuhisa’s culinary ingenuity and Robert De Niro’s epicurean sensibilities, both of international repute that place Kuala Lumpur on many international gourmands’ map, turning it into one of the probable places in the city where travellers’ should dine before they die…