John O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, January 14, 2014
Known around the world as Nobu, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa travelled from his native Japan to South America before settling in Los Angeles and opening his first restaurant, Matsuhisa, in Beverly Hills in 1987. His 27 eponymous restaurants, developed iwith business partner Robert De Niro, are found throughout the world. The most recent, Nobu Fairmont Monte Carlo, officially opened in the Monaco hotel this month, and again serves the chef’s enduringly popular mix of Japanese dishes and South American spices and aromas.
The first thing you need if you’re to run a good restaurant is passion. Once you’ve got that, the quality of the food and service will follow.
When I’m dining out privately, I tend to avoid fine-dining venues, I like things to feel casual. When service is overly attentive I become uncomfortable – I don’t like it, for example, when a waiter tops up my glass as soon as I take a sip of water. It’s better when you realise you need something and then the waiter is immediately available. You can say the service is good when it isn’t intrusive, but comes straight away when required. That’s what I aim for in all of my restaurants.
Decor is an important consideration too, of course, but the emphasis needs to be on ensuring the customer is comfortable. I respond to restaurants that have a good energy, with enthusiastic people working there, and a relaxed atmosphere. When I set up my first restaurant I was so inspired by Wolfgang Puck, who is also based in LA and is now a good friend of mine, and the way he would engage with his customers and greet them personally. It all adds to the sense that you’re somewhere special, with delicious food, smiling customers and a soundtrack provided by people talking and laughing.
Ristorante da Fiore, Venice
I went to Venice for the first time back in the ‘90s, to spend a week doing cookery demonstrations at the Hotel Ciprian i with Marcella Hazan. It was during that visit that Marcella introduced me to Ristorante da Fiore and I still stop by every time I’m in town. I often eat Italian food in LA but, of course, it’s different in Italy and this restaurant does seafood especially well. You might just have something simple like pasta with soft-shell crab or truffles, or a plate of fresh squid, but it’s always beautifully done and has a unique flourish. The restaurant itself has changed, though: when I went there 25 years ago it was frequented just by locals. Now it’s much more popular with international visitors, perhaps partially because I keep on recommending it.
I go to Tokyo about once a month so I aim to eat at Tenko (3-1 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku) at least three or four times a year. It’s a traditional, family-owned tempura restaurant set in what was once a geisha house. The founder’s son has taken charge now but if I go to the restaurant the mentor himself, who’s about 75 years old, makes tempura for me. Diners sit at a horseshoe-shaped counter and watch as the chef cooks directly before them, then the tempura is served one piece at a time rather than all together as a single course. It’s a wonderful way to eat; you’re never full up – the batter is so light – and you can see the chef’s mastery firsthand. It’s a resolutely Japanese experience but foreign visitors won’t have to struggle with a menu as you’re served a meal chosen by the chef. If you want to try tempura in Japan this is the best place.
Yan Toh Heen, Hong Kong
I have a restaurant in the InterContinental Hong Kong and when I’m there I make a point of visiting Yan Toh Heen, which is also in the hotel. It serves Chinese cuisine; its Peking duck is very famous, the dim sum isn’t at all greasy and its presentation is beautiful. All in all, the flavours are light and the dishes are healthy – they’re served in small portions. The space itself is decorated in a Chinese style but with modern elements, and the restaurant has views of the harbour; like Hong Kong itself it feels international and cosmopolitan, and it draws a discerning clientele who know a good meal is guaranteed.
Le Bernardin, New York
Eric Ripert is the young – well, younger than me at least – French chef behind Le Bernardin in New York. He’s got a nice personality and that’s something that’s very important for chefs now, you need to be friendly. He serves French cuisine and seafood is a speciality; he knows how to cook, and he’s very good with details and presentation. The space itself is beautiful and formal and popular with high-society diners.
Paper Moon, Milan
I have a restaurant in Milan and Paper Moon is five minutes away from my hotel so I always go there for lunch. It’s a casual place that serves good salad, pizza and pasta; the space is tight with tables close together and it feels buzzy. Food comes out fast, too. I always eat at the same table and am served by the same waiters so we know each other, but if you go for the first time it may not appear immediately friendly. The staff don’t smile, but they don’t need to. The team has been there for a long time, everyone knows exactly what they’re doing and their timing is perfect.
British Airways flies to Nice, the closest airport to Monaco, from London Gatwick 14 times weekly, with flights costing from £101.47 return including all taxes and charges.