Nobu London was the first European venture for the celebrated Japanese chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, opened at The Metropolitan Hotel on Park Lane in 1997 in conjunction with partners Robert DeNiro (with whom the chef stars in the Martin Scorsese film Casino), restaurateur Drew Nieporent, and Singaporean business woman Christina Ong, also known as “The Queen of Bond Street”. Having been patronised by Hollywood and music royalty, the blossoming Nobu empire next set their sights on other cosmopolitan cities including the most prestigious address of all, Monte-Carlo.
First launched as a six week pop-up at the fashionable 602 room Fairmont Hotel built on the sea, and a prominent feature on the F1 Monaco Grand Prix circuit, overwhelming demand from Monaco’s elite confirmed the desire for this eponymous Japanese fusion fine dining restaurant, officially opened in 2013 with a launch party that was attended by countless celebrities including David Coulthard and guests of honour Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco.
While the 150 cover restaurant features a contemporary, minimalist décor, with a large open kitchen and sushi bar where a team of chefs can be seen showcasing their knife skills under the watchful eyes of the dedicated sushi chef, it’s hard to work out if the theatricality of the kitchen, the views, or the A-listers are the main attraction at Nobu MC (F1 legend Eddie Jordan was dining on our night), yet I’d plump for the former due to floor to ceiling windows and a 40 seat terrace offering a breathtaking panorama of the Mediterranean and Principality, arguably the most exclusive destination in the Côte d’Azur.
A glass of champagne seemed like a suitable kick-off for our last evening in Monte-Carlo, followed by a tasting menu of Nobu’s signature dishes; the charred Japanese Shishito green peppers with a sweet, sticky soy, mirin and ginger sauce, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds being a house favourite, closely followed by a yellow tail sashimi topped with jalapeno, caviar and a yuzu and soy dressing. The fact that any chef can make jalapeno and caviar harmonious flavour pairings is testament to Matsuhisa’s continuing success.
Next, a delicious square fried-rice bonbon with king crab accompanied a selection of expertly prepared white fish, salmon and prawn nigiri, while the sommerlier’s choice of a 2008 Pouilly Fume, Pascal Jolivet (Loire) offered a surprising complexity to the experience; elderflower and passionfruit the resounding notes to begin with, yet becoming sweeter as the meal went on. An exquisite scallop and tuna tataki, featuring immaculate salad rolls offered something refreshing ahead of Nobu’s most celebrated dish, black cod with yuzu and miso dressing; unquestionably one of the greatest Japanese dishes in the world and the one that makes you return to Nobu again and again.
From a comforting Miso soup with bucket loads of umami, to the sizzling wagyu beef Toban-yaki with enoci mushrooms, baby sweetcorn, asparagus and that addictive umami again, Nobu Monte-Carlo’s menu offers everything from vibrantly flavoured yet extremely light and healthy raw fish dishes, to highly satisfying cooked mains, and they are all worth trying. Desserts to share were pleasurable without making any pretence towards virtue; a creamy cheesecake with a zingy yuzu sorbet, and a playful whiskey cappuccino crème brûlée with an espresso bean crumble, milk ice cream and a whiskey foam.
The service from the young front of house team had remained slick yet relaxed throughout, while the vibe of the restaurant became more nightclubby as night fell and the volume was turned up. Champagne continued to flow and it’s clear that this isn’t your usual fast turnaround Japanese restaurant, this is akin to an evening at the opera. The views remain just as exciting long after dark, and we noticed that one of the super-yachts, far too large to moor in the harbour, were having a party on the top deck. After a while, however, a smaller boat was dispatched and appeared to be heading towards The Fairmont. Perhaps some of the party were bored and in need of an umami fix – one thing’s for sure, Nobu Monte-Carlo isn’t your average Japanese restaurant, this is VIP Japanese.