There was a time when Japanese food meant exactly the same thing wherever you were, whatever the occasion and budget: sashimi, teppanyaki, sushi, teriyaki and tempura. In the 1990s, however, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa changed all that when he launched his deliriously inventive spin on classic Japanese tropes layered with nuanced South American influences, Peruvian specifically – yellowtail sashimi jalapeño and tempura eel, for instance.
From the start, a strong stylish streak has run through all of Matsuhisa’s projects. When the first Nobu opened in New York in 1994, he tapped David Rockwell for the interiors. ‘I explained to David the importance of the flow of the kitchen and the connection between the kitchen and the sushi bar. He understood both what I wanted and my style of cooking, and was able to translate my vision into a beautiful restaurant.’
It’s a formula that Matsuhisa has repeated over the years with great success. Within a few months of the first issue of Wallpaper*, he partnered with Robert De Niro, restaurateur Drew Nieporent, and Singaporean hotelier Christina Ong to open his first European outpost in London’s Metropolitan Hotel. Nobu London was the proverbial instant success. Every night, the deliberately austere dining room was mobbed by the city’s beau monde – every table swooning over the celebrated (and much imitated) black cod and miso. Within a year, it owned a Michelin star.
‘I think all the pieces just came together at the right time when we opened Nobu London,’ Matsuhisa now recalls. ‘Design definitely plays an important role in the overall dining experience. I think people who take the time to go out to dine are looking for a combination of things. It is not just about the food; it’s also about good service in a welcoming environment.’
Twenty years on, the quest for new experiences and environments continues. The original Nobu New York is relocating from its Tribeca perch to Broadway, while a clutch of hotels are prepping for their close-ups – including Nobu Hotel Eden Roc, which opens this winter in Miami Beach, and Nobu Hotel Shoreditch, scheduled for London next spring. ‘To me, food is like fashion,’ Matsuhisa says. ‘It’s constantly evolving. We are very excited about Nobu Hotel Shoreditch because it will be our third London location where guests will discover everything they love about Nobu.’
Nobu is one of our 20 Game-Changers. Read about the other 19 here
As originally featured in the October 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*211)