Brothers Rue are dedicated followers of food fashion, so on our way to Nobu Doha we reminisced how fickle some fads had been.
One remembered the misguided excitement generated in the mid-1990s when ostrich was hailed as the new red meat for increasingly health-conscious Americans. Indeed, the steaks they produced were low on cholesterol and fat but even less apparent was any semblance of taste. Suffice to say, many investors soon realised that farming ostrich really was a flight of fancy.
Similarly, restaurants have had a tendency to flirt with fame only to flop when the key ingredients of quality, creativity and consistency went missing in action. And, over the years, too many “celebrity chefs” have chosen to be guided by full-time PR advisers rather than their level-headed accountants.
Pursuing a gluttonous path of expansion to satisfy a craving for global brand recognition has often been ruinous. Cash flow can be reduced to a trickle of over-simmered sauce and soon enough, to use a culinary term, everything goes pear-shaped.
The restaurant trade is an unforgiving, often brutal business. How, we wondered, did Nobu Matsuhisa survive and prosper where so many had failed?
First, it was fair to assume that good fortune played a role somewhere during an illustrious career. So, cooking for Robert de Niro in Beverly Hills in the 1980s and finding out he was an ardent fan (who would later become co-owner of Nobu Restaurants), certainly ticks that box.
Second, good judgment was bound to have been a prerequisite of success. To borrow the line from New York, New York – “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere” – Nobu made the United States his home after carving out an early innovative niche in Peru. Since a 1994 debut in Tribeca, New York City, at the urging of De Niro, 11 more restaurants bearing the Nobu name have opened in the US with another 20 now adorning cities around the world.
The unassuming executive chef does not pursue publicity like some of his churlish contemporaries, but, when the first Nobu Hotel launched at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 2013, the clamour within Sin City’s temple of overt glitz and glamour was understandably intense. Exuding class with understated exuberance was slightly at odds with the rest of the surroundings, to say the least, but the gamble paid off handsomely.
Being a fish out of water in Doha, though, was never a consideration because David Rockwell, Nobu’s long-time designer-in-chief, decided to build the three-tiered, 26,000 sq ft masterpiece right on the water. And it is simply majestic.
Following a short scenic shuttle ride from the Four Seasons hotel and past the marina, we were met by Hassan Saraya, a knowledgeable newcomer among the hotel executive team who has a heavy load looking after the local jewel in the crown. Hassan was immediately identified as future GM material when he told one Brother Rue (who shall remain nameless) that he looked just like actor Alec Baldwin.
For once, the other brother was strangely mute, but that soon changed when the obligatory sake arrived. There are 10 choices, all imported exclusively from Sado Island in North Japan. While we would not pretend to be connoisseurs of this national treasure, our chosen flavour of passion fruit and lychee elicited a collective purr of contentment.
All Nobu staff must spend six months training to be part of the restaurant team and be able to answer any question at the end of the induction period. It is obviously time well spent because the returns on such investment were apparent all evening. Our gregarious guide was Yogamani Ramasamy (Mani) from Malaysia who was fully tested by his latest ultra-curious clientele and not once did he have to confer.
To begin our own food festival (it was DIFF week), we sampled three Nobu Bites. Spicy edamame, or young soybeans in their pods traditionally served salty, were plentiful. The crispy rice and spicy salmon dip was deliciously delicate with the sushi rice deep fried for just a few seconds with mirin and sake. Making up the trilogy were the Nobu wagyu beef sliders containing perfectly chopped (not minced!) meat, shitake mushroom and chopped crispy onion.
Just in case we needed reminding that wagyu, being so tender, inspires versatility in visionary chefs, we were then confronted by a beef (chopped again) taco with ponzu, a citrus soy-based sauce with fantastic flavour. However, we both agreed that top marks for taco would be awarded to the salmon spicy miso comprising silky chopped sashimi with an incredibly subtle infusion of sesame and olive oil.
Nobu is renowned not just for his signature dishes but also for salads. The combination of tuna sashimi with a peppercorn crust and a variety of green leaves enlivened by his eponymous Matsuhisa dressing was sublime. Without divulging its entire formula, the dressing contained a grain-enhanced Japanese yellow mustard, grapeseed oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, minced onion, pepper and much else besides.
A short break was deemed necessary and head chef Andrew Bozoki graciously arrived tableside. He explained that he was lured from the tranquil One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives. One Brother Rue suggested Doha must have seemed like a city that never slept after such a secluded sojourn.
Chef Andrew explained that it was not always easy to receive Nobu’s specialist ingredients in Qatar. As an example, he orders five tonnes of black cod from Alaska at a time and procurement has other challenges too. The king crab comes from the Bering Sea, the wagyu has to be shipped from Australia and the duck is from Lebanon because there is evidently a ban on French poultry, including eggs.
Suitably recharged, it was time to tuck in to three Nobu signature dishes. From the brick oven came the Australian ribeye with a distinctly Peruvian touch. Anticucho is a centuries-old secret from the Andes adapted with precision at Nobu as a striking marinade including chopped olives. Served with a pumpkin purée, the meat was sensational. The rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy ponzu were bite-sized golden nuggets with the batter – so often served thick and chewy at lesser establishments – wonderfully light and fluffy.
One Brother Rue had once been to Nobu at Atlantis in Dubai where he had his first memorable encounter with the Alaskan black cod and no visit to a Nobu anywhere would be complete without indulgence. Sweetened to perfection over three days with yuzu miso, the fish is transformed into a melting sensation of sensuous slices. Awesome, old boy, was the verdict from across the table.
The “old boy” reference was a subtle reminder that one brother was one year older that very day. As a birthday treat Chef Andrew prepared a palatial platter of fruit including mochi ice cream, Nobu cheesecake and caramelised vanilla cake. All was devoured with garrulous glee and much merriment.
By now, it should be apparent that we found all aspects of this magnificent monument for serious food aficionados faultless. And we are confident that the various teams Nobu has nurtured around the world over many years will ensure his restaurants remain at the very height of fashion. Enjoy!
The Rue Brothers review restaurants, spa and events exclusively for Marhaba.
Click here for more reviews by The Rue Brothers.