My Evening With The Emperor At Nobu KL
I stepped into Nobu having traversed two elevators, two arrival lobbies and one wrong turn to be greeted by a breath-taking view. The smattering of smog may have tried to haze-up the sight of KL, but couldn’t really steal from the feeling of dining in the sky.
360 degrees, 56 floors; merely numbers and words that try, but ultimately fall short of describing reality.
It’s a fitting place for another throne in the vast global empire of Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa. I came prepared for the omakase Umami and Truffle dinner, knowing almost everything I needed to about the maverick chef. Through countless hundreds of interviews over nearly three decades, Chef Nobu has recounted his life story again and again. He even did so to us not very long ago so I wasn't going to walk down that path again. I knew all about Nobu the chef; I wanted to know about Nobu, the head of an empire.
The guests gathered in the lounge, meeting and greeting with cocktails and sake, waiting to be told that dinner was served. This was the trailer before the movie, and although it was a wonderful trailer (read sake), we were all here for the main show, and it wasn’t long before we were ushered to our tables.
I couldn’t have faced my seat in a better direction had I done it myself; I got a full view of the outer kitchen, the inner kitchen and the master himself at work. As Nobusan paced back and forth, preparing dishes and overseeing every part of the dinner, I couldn’t help but feel a little amazed.
We were left to talk amongst ourselves just long enough before the Sushi Starters were brought out and silence reigned throughout the dining room. Each dish was preluded by an explanation, which was then succeeded by chewing, sipping and quiet exclamations of approval.
‘Umami’, called the fifth flavour, is a bit of mystery to most. I sum it up as a flavour that is recognised by the brain, but not so much the mind, which often leads to statements like – “Umami is umami.”
The volume picked up in between dishes as I watched Nobusan patrol his post checking every plate and hurrying his staff before another delicious Sushi dish, with some of Nobu’s famed Latin American touches was whisked to our table. The starters were followed by a beetroot salad and two outstanding dishes: the Umami Chilean Seabass and the Smoked Wagyu with Truffle Teriyaki.
There are many words in the English language to describe delicious food, but none of them were worthy here. I began to understand Umami, which by this point, I was certain was Japanese for “died and gone to heaven.”
It was midway through my Wagyu beef that the Commander In-Chief relaxed his post. With the major dishes out of the way, and preparations complete on the remaining two, Nobusan left the kitchen to join his guests.
I had planned to ask him several questions -- about Nobu KL; about being a celebrity chef; about his position as the name, face and head of an empire; but by this point I had already had the pleasure of watching the man at work all night, and knew I didn’t need to ask much.
As busy as he was, he still spared me a few minutes for which I got to ask him a few questions. The first, obviously, was how his day was. With a smile and a slight sigh of relief he said “better.”
“My staff is a little bit nervous today because I am here, but it is better now.”
The second was a question I already knew the answer to, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to hear it from the man himself.
I explained that I had watched him work all night, and was amazed that even after all these years, all the heights he had achieved and the size of his empire, he was still patrolling the kitchen, to which Nobusan, almost slightly offended said:
“No. This is my life. The kitchen is my life. It is where I do my work. I love being in the kitchen. Today is a smaller function, but yesterday we were open as usual and we had a hundred guests. That’s what I love; I love the energy,” he finished with a touch of pride.
I didn’t want to hold Chef Nobu for long. I thanked him for the honour, he thanked me for being there and I let him get back to what he loved doing.
The dinner ended with a Lobster Miso Soup and an absolutely wonderful Green Tea Parmesan Cheesecake dessert. It was amazing how good things in small amounts leave you feeling fulfilled.
I left Nobu with the chef’s answer to my third question playing in my head -- I had asked what he hoped for going forward?
“I feel Malaysia is still not fully familiar with Umami, but I think it is better now than before. I hope to help Malaysia understand more about Umami.”
It wasn’t a hope for success, or more riches, or a greater empire; just hope, from a chef never short of a smile, to have more people love the food as much as he did.
Check out our review of Nobu KL