So what happens when you live in Japan and you try Matsuhisa’s cuisine in Munich?
First of all, chef Nobu has been a friend for years, and his partner in his European operations is a very close friend. So I am familiar with the menu, style of foods, and I appreciate their ability to operate Matsuhisa in different locations throughout Europe.
Now imagine that the restaurant business is difficult enough, and when it comes to Japanese food, the first thing that comes to mind are raw materials and food costs. The second challenge is hiring skilled labor, and that means Japanese chefs. Then the language barriers and personalities and the expense of finding suitable living accommodations for staff.
So, Matushisa is a miracle and whenever you see it running you begin to understand how difficult it is serving Japanese foods in foreign countries. The genius of Nobu is all in his combination of ingredients. He learned from an early age how to take the key elements of Japanese cuisine, the umami flavours, sensitivity and range of flavours and has used his experience outside of Japan to craft his ideas.
The cuisine at Matsuhisa is not what I call “mainstream sushi” you’ll find in Japan unless you would visit an Izakaya, and there you won’t find sushi. So Matsuhisa is a hybrid fusion anglo-Japaneseque cuisine. And I am the first to be critical of Nobu, I find it outside the norm I am used to. But I live in Japan where sushi is found only a a sushi restaurant. You will find fish served in an Izakaya, but mostly cooked are found in Izakaya. It is true raw fish is served in kaiseki, or even at Tempura but never sushi, and only sashimi.
The idea of Izakaya is what Nobu introduced to the west, and by adding sushi, he has elevated it to a level which no one could have expected it. Take yourself back thirty years and Nobu was a young man with ambition when he opens in Los Angeles. Nobu san was first sponsored by a local Japanese businessman and he moved to Peru. You can imagine at that time, Japanese moving abroad would have been considered rare, and for a young man at age 23, he moved to Alaska to venture but it wasn’t until his restaurant burned down that he moved to Los Angeles.
The menu hasn’t changed that much in the last years except for a few new additions but who cares. The clients of Nobu and Matsuhisa enjoy the repetition of those signature dishes and that’s what makes the wheel turn. It’s a cult made up of well-known celebrities from all over who adore the unctuous Miso Cod, or his spicy tuna, or fried popcorn shrimps with mayonnaise.
But I warn guests and friends travelling to Japan for a first time, and those Nobu lovers about the fact that Nobu’s cuisine isn’t really Japanese. You won’t find spicy sushi in Japan, and it isn’t common for sushi affacindos to make shoyu baths and place a top their sushi ginger.
But most of my guests are confused about it, and doubt my advice until they have a true sushi experience in Japan. I remember receiving and apology from an Israeli friend who said, “I thought you were being overly critical, even riduclous when you said Nobu’s cuisine isn’t the norm in Japan” – but after a week in Tokyo he was convinced and apologized.
In Japan there is limited sushi fusion but its a growing phenomena, and that means one day, you could find jalapeño on your fish.
No doubt Nobu’s menu evolved out of those essential umami ideas and with his spicy tongue he created Peruvian-Japanesque fusion. This means a range of sweet and spicy flavours, something you will not find normally in Japanese restaurants specializing in sushi.
Bravo Nobu and Tasos san – you’ve accomplished amazing heights and I wish you the very best success.