Everything old is still old when dining at the newly opened Nobu Singapore.
His signatures are there, the dishes are well executed, and the service keeps up with the buzzy vibe. But the contemporary Japanese restaurant is a victim of its own success. It would be an excellent place to dine if it existed in a vacuum, or if we time-travelled back to the early 2000s when it was one of the trendiest restaurants in the US. In 2022 Singapore, however, similarly-priced venues are doing much of the same.
Take Nobu’s iconic Black Cod Miso (S$68) for example. His restaurant is home to the original, and over here they do a textbook version of it: smooth, umami, and luscious. Another trademark is the Yellowtail Jalapeño (S$39), which tingled with spice. Both dishes were faultless, but other venues from Koma to Spago do an equally good job of recreating it.
More thrilling menu options come from other Nobu locations around the world. Baby Spinach Salad with Shrimp (S$48), which combined crisp vegetables and incredibly sweet prawns with parmesan-like dried miso, was a revelation. Crispy Rice squares (S$36), which you dunk in soy sauce and smear with spicy tuna tartare, were a fun way to start an evening. Sweet king crab was enveloped in an airy tempura batter and brightened by amaru ponzu sauce (S$70).
Nobu currently does not have any Singapore-exclusive dishes on the dinner menu – although they plan to – but what they have are specials that change daily. One evening, it was a grilled spiny lobster the size of a newborn baby. Meaty and fragrant with char and garlic, General Manager Gopi Kanala joked that he was going to take it away and finish it if we didn’t, which we did.
Then there were dishes that fell short. A trio of oysters (another daily special) with melted cheese and ikura was almost room temperature when it arrived. Soft shell crab in a maki roll (S$32) was crunchy, but the rice was hard. Seafood Toban Yaki (S$52), or fish and vegetables on a sizzling ceramic plate, was rich and comforting but monotonous.
Toban Yaki, a cooking method that Nobu frequently uses, worked better with Japanese A5 Wagyu Beef (S$96 per 75 grams). Flambéed table-side, it was well-charred and juicy. The steak comes with three sauces – teriyaki, wasabi pepper, and anticucho, the last particularly showcased Nobu’s Japanese-Peruvian influences.
Dessert was a creamy Cheesecake, more New York-style than Japanese, coupled with a Raspberry Wasabi Sorbet that could be more assertive with the horseradish. A Bento Box of Valrhona Dark Chocolate Fondant was delightfully spongy and rich, enhanced by an earthy Green Tea Ice Cream. House-made Mochi, a Singapore-only dessert, was a threesome offering chocolate, green tea, and passionfruit flavours, and they were all multi-textural and irresistible.
The restaurant was continuously packed on a Friday evening, even at 10pm. Perhaps people come for the new-opening hype, or maybe it’s the cultural cachet – in the US, celebrities from Justin Bieber to the Kardashians dine there. The staff here also makes every effort to treat you like screen royalty. A server bowed reverently after introducing a bottle of Nobu-branded Hokusetsu sake. Another made us feel like the mochi was only for us.
For the uninitiated, Nobu is worth a visit. But the hyper-competitive local dining scene can leave you feeling slightly jaded when a restaurant juggernaut rolls into town. For the time being, grab a seat at Nobu’s bar, order the bracing Matsuhisa Martini, admire the zen Japanese garden, and ponder what Nobu could be if they push the boundaries even more.
Nobu is located at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, 190 Orchard Blvd, Level 3, Singapore 248646. Book here.