Chef behind Nobu restaurants is back in S’pore for F1, craves hawker food

Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa said he wants to try street food, though he does not have a particular place or stall in mind. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE – Since the Singapore Grand Prix made its debut in 2008, Japanese chef-restaurateur Nobuyuki Matsuhisa – who is behind the global Nobu chain of restaurants – has been whipping up gourmet fare for guests of The Paddock Club every year.

The club is the F1 Pit Building’s VIP area, located just above the pit garages. Each year, there is a line-up of international celebrity chefs. This year, they also include Neil Perry of Australia’s Rock Pool Bar & Grill.

If he is not busy dishing out eats at the race or Nobu Singapore, the 73-year-old might be out and about digging into hawker dishes such as laksa and chicken rice.

Since he landed in Singapore on Sept 26, the chef has already visited fine-dining restaurant Shinji by Kanesaka at The St Regis Singapore for an omakase meal. But he tells The Straits Times he wants to try street food, though he does not have a particular place or stall in mind.

Chef Matsuhisa, who lives in Los Angeles with his Japanese wife, has been busy jetsetting around the region, checking on his restaurants. Before Singapore, he was in Australia, where he visited his three restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.

A day after arriving here, he travelled to Malaysia, where he launched his Nobu restaurant in 2015. It has called the Four Seasons Hotel Kuala Lumpur home since March 2021.

Then it was back to Singapore on Sept 28. He spent two nights socialising with diners for his sold-out eight-course Chef Nobu In Town Omakase dinners at Nobu Singapore, which opened at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore in June.

Chef Matsuhisa might be travelling to Singapore more often these days. He has two daughters and one is based here. His other daughter lives in Tokyo, where he is headed to after Singapore.

“I have an excuse to come to Singapore now,” says the grandfather of three.

The Nobu brand is synonymous with his “Nobu-style” of Japanese cooking with Peruvian flavours, which stems from his time cooking in Peru in the 1970s. The first Nobu restaurant opened in New York in 1994.

Signatures such as the famous black cod miso and yellowtail with jalapeno are cooked and served the same way worldwide, while other dishes differ in their use of local ingredients.

For example, two dishes exclusive to the Singapore restaurant offer Chilean sea bass with spicy coriander sauce and shima-aji (striped jack) with chilli ponzu.

Recently, the restaurant launched an eight-course Teppanyaki Omakase Menu ($365) and 11-course Chef’s Table Omakase Menu ($475).

Nobu Singapore has launched a teppanyaki omakase featuring an eight-course menu. PHOTO: NOBU SINGAPORE

The latter offers a range of cold dishes, hot seafood dishes and a premium meat course.

Do not expect the fiery drama usually associated with teppanyaki. At Nobu, it is a refined experience showcasing quality produce such as abalone, lobster and Japanese wagyu.

Chef Matsuhisa says: “Younger chefs like to show with fire and dry ice. It’s okay to have it because it is fashionable. I like to keep it simple. But I learn from them too – I like to see what they do and I won’t say no. I’m very flexible.”

The Teppanyaki Omakase Menu costs 5. PHOTO: NOBU SINGAPORE

Nobu Singapore’s opening here is in partnership with Mr Ong Beng Seng, founder and managing director of Hotel Properties Limited, which runs Four Seasons Hotel Singapore as well as Nobu London in Old Park Lane, which opened in 1997.

There are more than 50 Nobu restaurants and over 10 Nobu Hotels worldwide.

Prior to launching his Nobu empire, chef Matsuhisa’s first restaurant opened in 1987 in Beverly Hills, California.

Called Matsuhisa, the restaurant serves food that is similar to that of Nobu restaurants, but the outlets are smaller. There are more than 10 Matsuhisa restaurants worldwide – including in Greece and Switzerland – and usually in different locations from where the Nobu concepts are found.

It is only in Los Angeles that there is both a Nobu restaurant and a Matsuhisa outlet.

Does this mean Matsuhisa will never arrive in Singapore? Yes, the chef replies firmly.

However, he does not rule out opening more Nobu restaurants here.

In the meantime, it is full steam ahead for the ever-expanding Nobu empire. Upcoming openings include Atlantic City and Atlanta in the United States and Rome, Italy, this year, followed by San Sebastian and Madrid in Spain next year.

In South-east Asia, the brand is looking to take off in Thailand and Vietnam in the next few years.

The highly competitive food and beverage scene does not faze chef Matsuhisa, as he emphasises consistency and quality in food.

“Offer the best produce, keep it simple and people will come back,” he adds. “It’s about building a strong team. Our chefs and managers understand quality control and Nobu’s philosophy. If there are problems, they know how to fix them.”

Nobu Singapore is located at Level 3 Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, 190 Orchard Boulevard, and opens from 6 to 10.30pm daily. For reservations, call 6831-7653, go to www.noburestaurants.com/singapore or e-mail Dining.Singapore@fourseasons.com

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