April has brought the arrival of fresh faces at NOBU InterContinental Hong Kong. Rhys Cattermoul is taking over NOBU as Executive Chef and Matias Bernasconi as Restaurant Manager. NOBU is offering a new Shunshoku three-course lunch, a Tanoshi (Happy) Hour (with drinks curated by Bernasconi) and new Osusume dishes developed by Rhys Cattermoul. I was invited to sample the new Osusume dishes.
Having spent eight years at NOBU Berkeley Street in London before relocating to Hong Kong, Cattermoul is a native of the NOBU philosophy and is no stranger to what the NOBU brand represents around the world: a blend of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines with a healthy sprinkling of citrus.
The first dish sampled was the spicy tuna tostadas ($160). The corn tortillas were grilled, then fried, and the tuna was lightly covered in a creamy gochujang sauce. The red onion and corn served to give this one-biter more texture. My favourite aspect was the contrast between the creamy gochujang and the tart finger lime. This was a great start. It was a dish that perfectly aligned with my expectations of what NOBU should be: seasoned raw fish with citrus caviar – half sushi and half ceviche.
Next came the kibinago kakiage with wild Japanese vegetables. This is a tempura dish that showcases a lovely range of seasonal Japanese vegetables – in this case, finely sliced pieces of negi (Japanese spring onion), carrot, shiitake mushroom, onion and urui (melon) with kibinago (a small herring-like fish). It was perfectly executed – light, crispy and I could taste each of the different types of vegetables used. The fish came through as well, and the whole dish was brought to life by the Japanese mayonnaise. The kibinago kakiage will be available on the Satsuki Grain Buds Omakase menu from 14 May–30 June 2019.
The oven-roasted cabbage with truffle ($178) was the epitome of a chef “dropping the U-bomb” on someone. Umami was everywhere, from the nuttiness of the clarified butter to the intense earthiness and aroma of the shaved black truffle. It was a dish of traditional NOBU-esque luxury superimposed with the relatively newer trend of charring and roasting vegetables.
Usually when a dish is subpar, I avoid laying down criticism. Perhaps it was a bad day or maybe a small mistake was made. I get it. But the shako (mantis shrimp) with ginger salsa ($388) was miles behind the other dishes on the menu. It simply didn’t work. I’ll save you the trouble of hearing me rant about it; just avoid ordering it when you’re there.
The final main was the kasugo (baby snapper) karaage ($288). This dish allowed the ingredients to best speak for themselves. The tender, unadulterated flesh of the lightly fried baby snapper, served with the simple accompaniment of a bright dashi and ponzu dipping sauce, was marvellous. Additionally, this dish was beautifully presented.
Dessert came last, but for me, it was the undisputed highlight of the entire meal: pandan chiffon cake rolled in rum and coconut shavings with pineapple sorbet and kuromitsu (a molasses-like syrup) honeycomb. NOBU’s incumbent pastry chef, Joanna Yuen, introduced the dish and asked us to imagine eating a pina colada. Well, I can declare she’s taken the concept of a pina colada to a new and fantastically imaginative level. As I had my first bite, I distinctly remember the surprise and glee I felt – the dish tasted exactly like a pina colada. There were only three elements on the plate, but they all worked together to make each bite steadily more memorable. Having four distinct textures also made the dish more interesting: the airy and light pandan chiffon, the small shards of smoky coconut shavings, the velvety pineapple sorbet and the crunch of the honeycomb. Everything was perfectly balanced, from the intense flavour of the pineapple to the subtle aroma of the pandan. This dish will be available on the Satsuki Grain Buds Omakase menu from 14 May–30 June 2019. Be sure to try it – Chef Yuen, you’re a bloody genius.
It’s time to answer the question I asked myself before I tried NOBU for the very first time. Does NOBU taste like NOBU? Do I feel that sense of indulgence and excess that I expect from NOBU? For the most part, yes. There are some kinks to be worked out, but I attribute those to the recent transition of power in the kitchen. The dishes that are been brought to the table by Rhys Cattermoul are true to the NOBU mantra of using quality ingredients that are simply and beautifully executed. Even if he does draw inspiration from other countries, the fusion between Japanese and Peruvian cuisines is omnipresent in his cooking. Sitting inside the restaurant, I felt cocooned in a feeling of restrained lavishness. It wasn’t in a gaudy or ostentatious way, but in a clean, business-like manner, much like the characters I imagined would have been sat in the lobby of InterContinental Hong Kong in the glory days of the 80s and 90s (Patrick Bateman from American Psycho springs to mind – but without the chainsaw) and much like the style of the food being served at NOBU today.
2/F, InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, TST, 2313 2323, book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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