Nobu London opened in February 1997, a collaboration between chef Nobu Matsuhisa, actor Robert De Niro, restaurateur Drew Nieporent – the three had already opened a successful restaurant in Manhattan – and fashion entrepreneur Christina Ong. The “Queen of Bond Street” founded fashion group Club 21 and owns the Metropolitan Hotel on Old Park Lane, where Nobu occupied the first floor.
On my first visit, I marvelled not just at the Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine, a novelty for London, but at the Issey Miyake shirts the waiters wore: apparently they had to be washed in cold water and dried flat – by the waiters themselves – to achieve the pleated effect. They seemed hugely stylish, but deeply impractical.
Nobu rapidly became the most fashionable restaurant in London, famed as much for its A-list clientele from the worlds of film, fashion, music and sport (Boris Becker has particular reason to remember his time there) as for the kitchen’s signature dishes of black cod with miso, hamachi with jalapeño and “new-style” sashimi. In the two decades since, the Nobu style of light, elegant, flavoursome food has become a global brand, with restaurants from Doha to Dallas.
Nevertheless, someone clearly agreed with me about the uniforms: when I returned to Old Park Lane a few years later, the hostesses were wearing black Armani trouser suits, the waiters blue Armani shirts, and the maître d’ a pinstriped Armani suit.
Fashion has always been a key part of the Nobu package. At Berkeley Street, the restaurant’s other London outpost, opened in 2005, the staff wear bespoke uniforms designed by Felder Felder, the German-born twin sisters who have become London Fashion Week stalwarts. Its recently refurbished bar is popular with fashionistas – Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid and Claudia Schiffer are all fans. There, alongside cocktails like the sake-based Round Robin Martini, and the Yuzupolitan, with vodka, Kamm & Sons botanical spirit, yuzu and agave, guests can nibble on panko shrimp skewers with yuzu aji amarillo (citrus and yellow chilli), lobster ceviche with butter lettuce (luxuriously low-carb) and, interestingly, pork scratchings (more popular with photographers than models, one suspects).
And there is another bijou offering: inedible, but still very Nobu. London jeweller Alan Crocetti has designed an ear cuff called the Pink Pearl, featuring a pair of chopsticks grasping a pearl. The chopsticks reference Nobu-san himself, while the pearl is a symbol of positivity, and is also thought to alleviate stress. In the event that your stress remains unalleviated, each £70 cuff comes with a free cocktail. That might just do the trick. bill Knott