It seems utterly bizarre that Nobu Matsuhisa no longer has a permanent base in Paris. While architect Ron Arad continues work on the Nobu hotel in east London, and 26 Nobu restaurants thrive around the world, the current pop-up collaboration at Le Royal Monceau represents a rare chance to experience Nobu’s food without – at the very least – a jaunt on the Eurostar under the Channel.
We’ve visited most of the Nobus around the world, and there’s something particularly appealing about the installation of Chef Matsuhisa’s kitchen here, in the anything-but-stark Philippe Starck-designed space of what is usually Le Cuisine. Matsuhisa’s food has always been so much more interesting than his artfully lit, low-key, franchised minimalist dining spaces suggest. He was, after all, toying with Peruvian fusion elements years before many diners had even heard of ceviche.
This is a quite brilliant “pop-up”: the Alice in Wonderland jumbo light fittings and wall of backlit bottles behind the kitchen at Le Royal Monceau lend just the right kind of ambience of irreverence and grandeur, while the crowd seems so much more appreciative and “on message” than it might otherwise be. When we dined this week, there was an 10 year-old boy having a birthday dinner with his family, unwrapping gifts that included the latest iPhone and a bounty of colour-coordinated stationery from Swedish Bookbinders. Oh to be a pre-teen with those parents. Compare and contrast to the last time we were at Nobu in Tokyo, when we sat next to an obese gentleman from a Flyover State, wearing shorts, a vest and socks and sandals. Okay, so we’re not sure about the elevator muzak that’s been programmed for this temporary space (there was a particularly grim call-centre remix of “Greensleeves” playing as we dined), but everything else – including the prettiest Christmas tree in the city – is just about perfect.
You can treat Nobu x Le Monceau Paris as a straightforward sushi bar. If you do, you’ll find some of the best nigiri and hand rolls in town. The fish and rice are perfect, their room temperature underscoring optimum freshness and perfect execution. Chilled sushi has as much flavour as a refrigerated tomato, and conveyor belts are a novelty best avoided – there’s none of that nonsense here. The sommelier has worked hard to put together a list of what works with dishes that often don’t play nicely with the more popular grapes (and sake isn’t, of course for all tastes). We were recommended an excellent Emile Beyer Riesling, and a Duval Leroy Rosé for our fish dishes, and then a splendid, slightly sweet biodynamic Corsican red from Domaine de Vaccelli to accompany a meat course.
For an evening’s entertainment, the Omakase degustation is the best experience of its kind in Paris right now. An opening salvo of slices of yellow tail with yuzu has some heat from a garnish of thinly sliced jalapeno, while “Salmon New Style” comes in a fruit reduction far less cloying than the versions we’ve experienced (and otherwise loved) at Adolfo Suaya’s Osaka in Buenos Aires and Santiago. There are feather-light baby prawns with a sesame dressing and then a salad of baby spinach with dry miso and white truffle oil – a mountain of freshness and crunch. Refreshingly, the truffle flavour takes a back seat to the parmesan and an appealing faint bitterness from the other ingredients. Then there are the Nobu knock-outs: the black cod and the umami-rich sliced beef. If you’re going to have cod that’s been caremalised with yuzu and miso, then this is where to have it — after all, Nobu essentially invented it. And that beef to follow… so soft and rich and full of flavour, in a sticky teriyaki sauce. Forget goose and turkey, it’s unlikely there are two more delicious things to eat in Paris this Christmas.