‘Safety First’, goes the adage. You’d never run with a pair of scissors in your hand, unless you’re Anneka Rice doing your Christmas Eve wrapping (that joke ages so badly that literally 90% of our readers will never get it), you wouldn’t take a brolly in a lightning storm, bite a Beefeater, stroke scorpion or pash with a piraña. But you’re quite willing to roll up to a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic. Well one place you needn’t worry about is Nobu, where safety really does come first.
I was sat outside a (different) restaurant recently and watched as a dogeared track-and-trace pad was passed from table to table along with a black biro. Two separate diners chewed the lid of the biro while another licked the nib to try and get the ink to flow… By the time it arrived at my table the ink was run out and I used the empty pen to engrave my mobile number on the paper. Needless to say I’ll never find out what happened next at this super spreader restaurant, but one thing I know for certain is that it’d never happen at Nobu.
London’s smartest Japanese restaurant is so COVID-secure that it’s a veritable coronavirus Fort Knox. Booking is relatively simple, choose a 15 minute ‘slot’ and turn up on time, mask in hand. For obvious reasons, bookings are only possible for up to six people, as per Boris’s guidelines.
From the moment I arrived, social distancing and mask wearing were clearly de rigour and enforced. Even before the government’s updated guidelines telling diners to wear face coverings to and from their seats, Nobu were ahead of the curve. Forcefully holding out a closed palm in the international signal for STOP OR I SHOOT, the doorman allowed a couple to leave the restaurant before I entered, always maintaining a strict two metre distance between clientele. Checking-in at the Perspex protected reception I was handed a spare single-use mask, issued hand sanitiser and gestured up the familiar stairs.
It's a little discombobulating until you remember that we are in the midst of a global pandemic...
I was waiting for a friend who was running predictably late, and normally I’d snuggle down in the bar and sink a cocktail while aimlessly scrolling through my phone. But on this occasion I’m led to my table to check my emails in isolation. The plain wood tables aren’t ready laid, giving a sparse end-of-the day feel, as though they’re just about to stack chairs on top of the tables. It’s a little discombobulating until you remember that we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
But while you can clear the chopsticks and empty glasses away, you can’t take away the brilliant service and quality food. Even the face-masked lady who disinfects the table as I arrive is anxious to ensure everything’s okay and offer a reassuring smile. At least I think it was a smile, it’s tricky to tell under the PPE.
Finally my work email sesh was thankfully curtailed by my straggling guest and I proceeded to start with a cocktail, an English Rose, a combo of Boxer gin, berries and with a dash of Chartreuse liqueur. The drink is mixed at a bar you’ll never see by a hidden mixologist who is presumably also a wizard because it tastes magical and is the ideal way to begin a feast.
No menu, no problem: just scan a QR code and through the power of technology your phone will tell you what’s on offer. Will we ever go back to cardboard? (I hope so, I usually use them to scribble notes on and without them this article is waaaay harder!) Plump for the six course Omakase tasting menu, as I did, and you can’t go wrong.
What came next was a medley of Nobu’s greatest hits. The restaurant is a Park Lane institution for a reason, the food is fabulous. Delivered by be-masked waiters and mysterious faceless sommeliers, you really can get lost in the menu.
Nobu’s signature black cod with miso is unmissable, slicked in soy and it’s as succulent as it is scrumptious. It’s the dish that Nobu is probably best known for, and rightly so. The sizzling hot plate of Beef Toban-Yaki is a contender, though, the tender meat melts in the mouth. Equally, the sushi selection is worthy of mention.
Food is there to be enjoyed, it’s sensual and seductive. Anyone’s enjoyment of a meal is marred by a coughing and spluttering neighbour seated virtually on your lap. With customers spaced far enough away that you could just about see their lips moving when they spoke, there was no need for concern, meaning that when the chocolate Bento box and the selections of ice creams and sorbets arrived, I was able to guzzle them without feeling the judgement of fellow diners. This really is how to experience a meal.
As we knocked back a glass of Takara plum wine to close the meal it only occurred to me that we hadn’t seen the faces of the staff we had become friendly with throughout the meal, wouldn’t recognise them on the street and yet we’d felt a connection. The occasional Detol wipe-down didn’t distract but added a sense of theatre (albeit operating theatre) and walking out into the fresh Park Lane air, mask on coat off, felt like leaving a safety bubble and entering the world again.