Restaurants: Back to the future

There is something so very this century about the location of Ubon, the second Japanese fusion restaurant in London from Nobu Matsuhisa. It sits above a swanky health club at Canary Wharf in the Docklands, as if there were something simpatico about the assaults on fitness being performed in the ground-floor gym and the light, delicate, often raw food served in the restaurant four floors above. The decor - simple lines, acres of stripped wood, lots of plate glass affording views of the Thames - adds to that aura of purity. It's all rubbish, though. There's more than enough booze on the wine list, oil in the deep-fat fryer and sugar in the puddings to allow the committed hedonist to treat their body less like a temple and more like a bordello.

But here at the epitome of the modern restaurant, a place which has its eye set firmly on the globalised future rather than the past, image is all, as it should be in a location as fake and invented as the great film set which is Canary Wharf. Attention to image and detail should not, however, be mistaken for authenticity. As you enter Ubon the entire floor calls out with a traditional Japanese welcome; in Tokyo you only hear it when entering a department store, not a restaurant. It added to the theatre because, as each person entered and the cry went up, you could not help but turn and look to see who this important soul could be. And in would walk another anonymous Paul Smith suit, another Gucci tie, another two-piece by Nicole Farhi.

But that, as I say, is all about image, the common currency of the modern restaurant trade. What really counts here is that the food which underpins the image is, for the most part, terrific. I went with my brother Adam who, as well as killing pheasants with his bare hands, is also a Nipponophile. He rated the sashimi - raw fish, unburdened by vinegared rice - as good as the best he had ever tried in Tokyo. What the food can not be called is easy on the wallet. We ran up a bill of £95 and all we drank was mineral water. Take in that figure. Digest it. That's what this kind of stuff costs and, more to the point, that's what this kind of restaurant can get away with charging. Trade was brisk the lunchtime we went.

Let's get the one duff dish out of the way first. Ubon - being a branch of the Nobu empire - specialises in reinventing Japanese food. From the special appetisers we chose a tartare of yellowtail tuna with caviar at £14. It came as a small (read tiny) tian in a pool of miso sauce which overwhelmed the silver-grey grains of caviar and left us wishing that the tuna had remained a lump of sashimi. We were reassured by a plateful of unmucked-with sashimi (as against their slightly seared 'New Style' version); it was beautiful stuff, particularly the beige jewels of fragrant, almost gamey sea-urchin roe.

For our main course we ordered rock-shrimp tempura dressed with a sharp lemony cream sauce. The batter was extraordinarily light and the dressing - which would never turn up on a traditional Japanese menu - was a beautiful accompaniment that cut through the richness of the fish. From that climax, the meal went only upwards to the black cod with miso, a signature dish of Nobu Matsuhisa which is truly a thing of beauty: a cut of fish from the tail marinated in miso for three days then seared to give the outside a sweet stickiness while maintaining the rich softness of the flaky flesh. It was chopsticks at dawn as every ounce of sibling rivalry, nurtured at our mother's knee, came roaring out in the fight for the last flake. If any dish can be said to be worth £22.50, this one was and is.

We finished with some delicate white-chocolate spring rolls and, as an ideal palate cleanser, a plate of exotic fruit specimens neither of us had ever seen before - combinations of lychee, passion fruit and mango. Was it worth £95? Who knows, but we had a bloody nice time.

As we're on the question of money, a quick warning with which to start the new year. A few weeks ago four of us went to a restaurant in west London called Veronica's. The meal was so desperately mediocre I could not even summon the will to review it. We split the bill and handed over two cards. The restaurant charged both halves to my card, which fact I only discovered when I checked my statement a month later. Veronica's, apparently content that it has received payment, has proved remarkably unwilling to check its records to see exactly what happened that night, despite the fact that they took an unauthorised second payment. The lesson here, I suppose, is always check your bank or credit-card statements. I know I will.

• Ubon by Nobu, 34 Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, London E14 (020 7719 7800). Lunch for two, including wine and service, around £125. Contact Jay Rayner on

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