Chef Nobu Matsuhisa talks about the relaunch of Nobu in Hong Kong and why the 852 holds a special place in his heart
When InterContinental Hong Kong shut its doors a few years ago, so too did Nobu, a member of Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s global Peruvian-influenced Japanese restaurant empire. Since then, we’ve been hankering for a taste of Nobu’s iconic signature dishes. Now, our cravings have finally been satiated with the relaunch of the chef’s eponymous restaurant at Regent Hong Kong, the InterCon’s successor, which is celebrating its grand opening this month.
Along with actor Robert De Niro, film producer Meir Teper and restaurateur Drew Nieporent, Chef Matsuhisa opened the first Nobu restaurant in New York City in 1994. Over the next nearly three decades, the Nobu brand has expanded to over 50 locations around the world, and bagging a seat at the Big Apple flagship remains a hot ticket to this day. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which was one of the biggest challenges of the chef’s career, Nobu continued to flourish, with most of the locations switching to takeaway and delivery options and the loyal customer base showing their full support.
Teamwork is one secret behind Nobu’s success. Chef Matsuhisa explains, “Our expansion into hotels has played a major part in the brand staying relevant. It’s allowed us to open in some of the most amazing cities around the world. Another reason is our Nobu teams around the globe. We promote from within – dishwashers, bussers, waiters, prep cooks become executive chefs and managers. Just like a family, it grows. This kind of teamwork is vital to our success.”
Like Madonna and Prince, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa is so well known that if someone mentions the name “Nobu”, there’s only one person who springs to mind.
Now a sprightly 74 years old, Chef Matsuhisa was born and bred in Saitama, Japan, and began his path to celeb-chef glory as an apprentice at Matsue Sushi in Tokyo. The chef dreamt of travelling the world, and it was in Peru that he opened his very own sushi bar, there developing his unique “Nobu style” of Japanese cuisine incorporating Peruvian ingredients.
Several years in Peru followed by more globe-trotting came next. Nobu-san finally settled in Los Angeles, where he resides to this day. His first LA restaurant – Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills – debuted in 1984, and it became a hotspot from the get-go. The Nobu restaurant empire’s meteoric rise to global success kicked off a decade later.
Luckily for us diners, Chef Matsuhisa, who spends around 10 months each year travelling to his Nobu outposts around the world, has no plans to retire any time soon. Instead, he wants to continue to mentor and educate the next generation of chefs, and he says that despite all his achievements and accolades, it’s a home-cooked meal by his wife, Yoko, that will always take pride of place for him.
Nobu Hong Kong today
Nobu Hong Kong’s culinary team is led by Executive Chef Jason Au, who joined Chef Matsuhisa at Nobu Fifty Seven in New York in 2007. He’s worked on the opening teams of Nobu Dubai and Beijing and had two stints at Nobu InterContinental Hong Kong.
Maintaining quality control at his dozens of restaurants around the world is a priority for Chef Matsuhisa. He explains, “Nobu is not just me – it’s also my team. I have a really strong team who I have spent years working with and educating personally. They go out and teach everyone my philosophy for good food and good service, so we are all working towards the same goal. I also spend most of the year travelling to visit my teams and am constantly reinforcing our philosophies. We are very hands on, and because of that, our quality and standards stay consistent.”
The Nobu à-la-carte menu runs the gamut from Nobu-style tacos, to classic hot and cold dishes (black cod with miso, rock shrimp tempura with creamy spicy sauce and yellowtail jalapeño, just to name a few), to tempura and kushiyaki, to various preparations of Japanese Wagyu, to sashimi, nigiri and maki. However, it’s the newer “now” hot and cold dishes that most piqued our interest this time around; these include crispy rice with spicy tuna, king crab tempura with amazu ponzu and Dover sole with shiso salsa.
For those who want a taste of the best of the best that Nobu has to offer, the signature omakase (HKD1,380 pp) is the way to go. It offers a multi-course tasting menu showcasing the essence of Chef Matsuhisa’s cuisine.
Complementing Chef Au’s seamless execution of Nobu signature dishes, the drink list includes Nobu-style cocktails, sake brewed exclusively by Hokusetsu brewery for Nobu restaurants worldwide, Nobu’s own Matsuhisa Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California and private-label Grand Cru Nobu Champagne by Louis de Sacy, a family-owned vineyard in France.