Crown Casino (& entertainment complex, call it what you will)
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank
BYO: ha! I don’t think so. Unless you’re the type who wants to bring your own bottle of Grange.
Last year, on a free dress Friday, myself and one of the other consultants at work were hurriedly sent in place of a couple of directors to a business lunch at Crown because something came up and they couldn’t make it. I’m never one to turn down a free lunch, even if I do have to attend in my polkadot cardigan and jeans while the rest of the bigwigs are suited up. We gladly volunteered and got right into it, schmoozing with our wines and entering the spot prize to win a $200 dinner at Crown Restaurants. Sure, we thought. We’ll win that.
When it came time to draw the spot prize, I started praying NOT to win it as I really didn’t want to go up and collect the prize in my spotty red cardigan in front of all the suits. As things like this always happen when you are praying them not to, my business card was pulled out and I had to go and shake the speaker’s hand (CEO of one of the largest ASX-listed companies, mind you). This was mortifying.
Nevertheless, time heals all wounds, and it was time to pull out this baby and USE it! I went through all of the permitted restaurants on the voucher on the Urbanspoon website, ruling out any below 70% rating (and there are rather a lot at Crown – unfortunate) and finally worked out that if we went to Nobu, we could afford an entree, a main and dessert OR wine each without blowing the budget. Nobu was on!
Mr B and I got into the spirit of things and dressed up for the occasion. When we got there our table wasn’t quite ready, so we perched at the upstairs bar and scoped the place out. The restaurant is very stylishly fitted out. Nobu is a chain of fancy restaurants across the world – one of Nobu Matsuhisa’s business partners is Robert De Niro – so you’d expect it to have a slick feeling. Here’s an interesting article about how Nobu got started, by the way – Nobu’s first restaurant of his own was in Peru, which explains the South American-Japanese fusion dishes (of which more later).
The bar looks onto the Southbank Promenade, but the restaurant itself is downstairs, which feels a little odd as the only windows look out onto the Crown shopping concourse. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to look at inside the restaurant, including the large open kitchen where you can see chefs slaving over your delicate creations.
To start, we were offered cocktails and endamame, so we said yes to both. Cha-ching! The voucher countdown had been started. I loved the large flakes of salt on the endamame, but I’m a huge salt fan. Mr B had a Kirin beer, while I went for the Wild Tenshi cocktail: honey liqueur, hazelnut, lychee and coconut (with a fresh lychee on a stick). It was delicious. Sweet, but deadly.
Now, Mr B doesn’t love seafood, so we thought we’d order a couple of dishes each and see how we went. Nobu brings them out one by one, though, so he made a gallant attempt to try some of the sashimi tacos, with yellowtail, salmon, lobster and snow crab. I liked these – four little bites of incredibly fresh fish with a cool zingy salsa. However, at $23.50 for the plate, I’m glad I tried them but I am doubly glad I wasn’t paying out of my own wallet!
Our next dish, and undoubtedly our favourite dish that we ordered, was the beef tataki with ponzu and garlic chips. When the waiter served us this dish, he said confidently, “you’re going to love this.” And we did. The beef was tender, the ponzu sauce had heaps of refreshing citrusy flavour and the garlic chips were little crunches of awesome punctuating each mouthful.
Speaking of our waiter (and waitress), service was incredibly friendly all night – I mean I’m sure they knew we were there on a voucher, but really open to helping us work out what we wanted to order and letting us know what was in each dish.
Our next dish was their famous black cod miso. I wanted to hit off the big guns on the menu, so to speak. Apparently the cod marinates in the miso base for two or three days, before it’s grilled and the sticky sweet miso marinade caramelises on the outside. The cod was extremely tender and sweet, and although the portion was small, very filling due to the richness of the flavour. It’s very, very sweet.
Finally, the last dish we ordered was the wagyu gyoza with goma ponzu. These were five little gyoza dumplings (two shown in the photo below because we had started eating them before I remembered to take a picture!). Personally I think it’s a bit pretentious putting wagyu meat in a gyoza. I certainly can’t taste the difference between beef dumplings, and grain fed marbled fat beef dumplings. It’s all meat once it’s in dumpling form! However, the ponzu dipping sauce was amazing and really lifted the dish. (Mr B ate the majority of this dish, because I essentially got to eat 80% of the black cod miso after he had his token try of it).
We were offered the dessert menu, and after a panicked calculation on my phone calculator, we worked out we could probably still afford dessert (I mean, of course we could have afforded dessert, but we were making a real effort not to dip into our own wallets over and above the voucher, heh). We couldn’t go past sharing the Nobu bento box for dessert. Anything in a bento box is great, right?
The bento box comprised: an amazing chocolate fondant (with molten centre and gold leaf on the top); green tea ice cream, which Mr B said “it tastes like fish” and I said, “no, it tastes like green tea” but then had a bite and was forced to admit that for some reason, green tea ice cream DOES taste like fish! There was also a hard sesame (goma) biscuit tuile under the green tea ice-cream, which unfortunately was rather stuck to the box, so we broke it up with our spoons and did our best to eat it. It was good, but the star of the box was definitely the fondant.
And so we come to the end of our epic dinner at Nobu. Was it good? Undoubtedly – we enjoyed our dishes immensely (although I found the gyoza a bit average). Was it hugely overpriced and can you get dishes this good from other Japanese restaurants in town? Most likely. I wouldn’t go back unless someone else was paying, but I highly, highly enjoyed this experience.
Oh and… I forgot to mention – our meal came in at $192! WINNARS! Although Mr B did say wistfully, “that would have bought a lot of KFC.”
If you do a bit of research I’m sure you could find about 500 blog reviews of Nobu to compare with mine, but just to mention a couple: I’m So Hungreee ordered similar dishes to us and found them expensive but well worth it; I Eat Therefore I am thought it was good but overpriced and also found the space a little weird; and The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar went for lunch, which is something I’d be interested in returning to at Nobu!