TA­BLES GOOD COD ALMIGHTY

Ge­orge Me­ga­lo­ge­nis joins the line-up to wor­ship at the al­tar of Melbourne’s new­est tem­ple of fine din­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

IN case you missed it, a hur­ri­cane of hype greeted the of­fi­cial open­ing of Nobu in Melbourne last week. Ac­tors, mod­els and me­dia moguls com­peted for group shots to launch a restau­rant that opened for busi­ness a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier. Ap­par­ently Ja­panese food was served at the event, but I wouldn’t know be­cause I was work­ing in Can­berra on the day.

The pres­ence of De Niro, R., Gale, M. and Packer, J. seemed to in­spire the me­dia to view Nobu’s birth as wor­thy of hard news and heavy so­cial com­men­tary.

The Age ran a gush­ing piece on page one, while The Aus­tralian took a more crit­i­cal approach on page five, cit­ing the PR flack’s warn­ing that De Niro, a co-owner of the Nobu chain, wouldn’t take ques­tions on his day job, namely act­ing.

But my favourite ar­ti­cle came from The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald . Colum­nist Mi­randa Devine pre-empted the show to tell read­ers that Nobu’s ar­rival in Melbourne ‘‘ is a salu­tary warn­ing for Syd­neysiders’’ to grow up, cul­tur­ally speak­ing. All of which may be true, but here are two punch­lines that may ap­pease Syd­neysiders.

First, Nobu is lo­cated in the Syd­ney end of Melbourne, namely the Packer-owned Crown Casino. Sec­ond, this is the 19th in the Nobu em­pire. Melbourne came af­ter Greece’s Mykonos, Par­adise Is­land in the Ba­hamas and Dal­las, Texas. If there is a com­pli­ment be­ing paid to Melbourne, it is be­ing de­liv­ered with the back of the hand.

My buddy M had eaten at Nobu Mat­suhisa’s Tokyo es­tab­lish­ment ear­lier this year and al­most fell over her­self to vol­un­teer for this as­sign­ment. All I have to cross-ref­er­ence is a lunch at De Niro’s Tribeca Grill in New York in 1996, which ended with one of my friends com­plain­ing of a se­ri­ous gut ache.

We ar­rive to greet­ings from staff and are hur­ried to our seats. A waiter plonks the menu and wine list on our ta­ble and be­gins the lec­ture about the sort of food that is served and the best way to en­joy it.

There is even a prod­uct warn­ing to ig­nore the last page of the menu, which seems to be re­served for din­ers with­out imag­i­na­tion. The hur­ri­cane of hype be­comes a tsunami of ser­vice. M and I ex­change sighs. We’d like some time to read the menu on our own. The hint is taken and we are left alone.

Sec­onds pass. Our waiter re­turns. No, sorry, we haven’t had time to de­cide. Some more sec­onds pass, then an­other waiter asks if we are ready. Their ea­ger­ness to please is amus­ing, per­haps even en­dear­ing. But it is also a touch an­noy­ing.

We are sud­denly hun­gry and agree to speedread the menu be­fore the next as­sault.

For starters, we go for the lob­ster salad with lemon dress­ing ($27) and the prawn Ba­hamas ($10.50), the prawns served with a fresh mix of tangy, finely-diced veg­eta­bles.

For mains, we opt for the black cod done in miso sauce ($33), which M as­sures me was the high­light of her Tokyo so­journ.

It won’t be enough for the evening, but we fig­ure we can top up later. The menu lists cold dishes, hot dishes, en­trees (which, in Amer­i­can style, are Nobu’s main dishes served with miso soup and rice, and also a list of tem­pura), sushi and sashimi and desserts.

Seafood dom­i­nates with a hand­ful of chicken, beef and lamb dishes, in­clud­ing Nobu’s sig­na­ture Peru­vian in­flu­enced steak.

I or­der a glass of the 2006 Matua Val­ley Pare­tai Sauvi­gnon Blanc ($16), while M is crav­ing cham­pagne and has a glass of the Vil­mart Grande Re­serve NV ($25).

The cold starters come quickly. They are ter­rific, crisp flavours. They don’t touch the sides, though. We’ll need more than the cod to fill us up.

We no­tice the restau­rant is now full. It’s barely 7pm and it’s a Mon­day night but this place has the buzz of the Fri­day evening be­fore an AFL grand fi­nal.

Our con­ver­sa­tion turns to the fit-out. The theme is bam­boo and it’s classy. No fin­ger paint­ings by De Niro’s dad to be seen. In our re­spec­tive vis­its to Tokyo and New York, M and I had noted the owner liked to put fam­ily art­works up on the wall.

But we di­gress. The cod has landed and M starts hack­ing at it. She is ren­dered mute by the open­ing mouth­ful. Her com­mand of the English lan­guage di­min­ishes with each sub­se­quent gulp. All she can say is: ‘‘ Yum.’’

I’d never thought to eat cod be­fore, so I’m not pre­pared for the taste. The tex­ture is some­where be­tween scal­lop and abalone. It is be­yond de­li­cious. Even the skin is worth munch­ing. I have to or­der an­other serve.

But the ser­vice has slipped back to a less in­tru­sive crawl. They are be­ing worked off their feet and now we are de­mand­ing their at­ten­tion, which they are not ready to give.

We no­tice the ta­bles ei­ther side of us have the same prob­lem get­ting no­ticed. Our necks crane in uni­son like clowns in a side-show al­ley. Fi­nally our waiter re­turns and I or­der a sec­ond help­ing of cod.

We also ask for a rec­om­men­da­tion of sushi but wind up re­ceiv­ing a trio of sashimi (salmon $6, sea urchin $11 and sweet shrimp $7). The lat­ter is all good, but not great. It is the cod that still has me drool­ing. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

Nobu Melbourne Crown Melbourne, 8 White­man St, South­bank; (03) 9696 6566; www.nobu­restau­rants.com. Open: For din­ner, seven days. Bar, from 5pm-1am; 2am, Fri­day, Satur­day. Cost: Not cheap. Ex­pect to pay $100-plus a head to fill your stom­ach. Drink: Sake from $12 for a small Hokusetsu Onig­oroshi, or Devil Killer, to $195 for a bot­tle of the Hokusetsu YK35. An ex­ten­sive wine and cock­tails list. Rea­son to re­turn: More cod.

Jewel in the Crown: Clock­wise from top, Nobu Melbourne; cod; as­para­gus and roe; Nobu

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