Thursday, April 15, 2004

Restaurant Review Writing

One of the first things I considered when I started blogging was to have a section on restaurant reviews of places I've eaten at. What motivated me was the sheer number of places where I've squandered my money, and the absolute insipid nature of existing reviews on the web. My initial attempts were equally bland though, and I gave up on the effort.

I recently read a review I immensely enjoyed. It's kinda hard to link, so I'll just paste it here. It's for Ubon, an offshoot of Nobu Matshuhisa's eponymous Nobu. {ubon = nobu in reverse. nice touch}. This appeared in the Evening Standard and refers to the Ubon in London's Canary Wharf.

If we have two Tate Galleries, we should therefore be allowed two Nobus. And although is sounds hysterical, I prefer the new East End incarnation. At night about the only time I can countenance making the perilous 90-minute journey across town, Canary Wharf shimmers like a magic realm, the top of the tower wreathed in clouds that enhance the mystical air. Ubon is tucked behind the swish new Four Seasons Hotel, surrounded by clipped lawns in a building, part lighthouse, part metal-clad Mayan -style structure, that reminds me of the Altar de la Patria in Santo Domingo.

Given the glamorous, manicured and antiseptic modernity of the location, its hard to believe you are in London. Instead, its as if one has stepped into one of those weird cities eulogised in the pages of Wallpaper - Toronto, Helsinki, Stuttgart or Stockholm. Except that having been to Stockholm, I can confirm that it is as glamour free as it is possible for a city to be; while Canary Wharf is quite invigorating in its modernity.

The dining room is smaller than Park Lane, more intimate , and commands a spectacular view of the Thames. The slightly unnerving thing about Ubon (and indeed Nobu) is that, as soon as you enter, waiters stop what they are doing and shout out some extraordinary greeting in Nobuese. That aside, Ubon possess an understated chic. And as my companion , I took one of London's chicest journalists.

'Nobody here has had a blow-dry' was her epigrammatic summation of the feminine style quotient. And, indeed, there was a home-made quality about the women's appearance. One female customer had obviously been told she looked vaguely attractive, and on the strength of this had purchased a moderately expensive, backless dress. While she did not look too offensive, she was obviously a Birkenstock girl at heart, and had yet to get her head around the concept of Jimmy Choo or Manolo. Her shoes would not have looked out of place at Greenham Common peace camp, and rather marred her frequent and endearingly clumsy attempts to sashay through the restaurant.

However, to cast all the customers as style ingenues would be unfair. On a previous visit I had sat next to a party of Belgravia-dwelling Italians, who were obviously regulars at Nobu, and, for all I know, the Nobu in Milan too. They were the sort of people one might bump into enjoying a flute of Cristal at the Caves du Roy in St Tropez, or sitting outside the Chuflay bar of the Splendid Mare Portofino. We were immediately united by our shared love of the black cod, one of the great restaurant dishes of the late-20th century, of which they had ordered numerous portions.The pace at Ubon is less frenetic than its Park Lane sibling, actually allowing you to enjoy the food, which is truly sensational. The menu reads like a carefully prepared and edited album of Nobu's greatest hits. Snow crab with creamy spicy sauce, rock-shrimp tempura with ponzu and the black cod are just a few of the must-eats. We ordered a remarkable array of sushi, of which the mackerel and the eel were the stars. Service was enchanting and almost made the bill seem moderate.


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