MANILA — Nobu, the famed restaurant of Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, is set to open at the City of Dreams entertainment complex before the end of the year. The restaurant, with its legendary menu that fuses South American and Japanese culinary traditions, will be the centerpiece of the Nobu Hotel, the first in Asia.

Guests at the Nobu Hotel will be treated to Matsuhisa’s culinary genius even for in-room dining. Ordinary room-service fare like the humble BLT and Clubhouse sandwich will be given the Nobu treatment.

At the lobby will be Nobu Tea House, serving an extended selection of teas, premium coffee, cakes and pastries to its guests.

A chef’s table event was recently held at a private residence in one of Makati’s posh villages to give a taste of things to come. Lychee coolers and appetizers were served in an outdoor cabana-style dining area, suggesting the terrace that will feature views of Manila Bay when the restaurant is in full swing.

It was apparent how different the dining experience will be at this point. The wait staff were friendly and very knowledgeable about the food they were serving. Not only could they talk about how the food tastes but they went as far as talking about cooking methods and ingredients. Their passion for the food just upped the excitement for the meal.

Everything during that meal was deliberate and had a reason. The strong flavors of the appetizers served to open up the palate. The Mini Lobster Balls in wasabi aioli was delicate yet had a slight crunch from the fried mantou bread.

But it was the Pork Belly in Spicy Miso that set the tone for what was to come. There was so much character and flavor in one bite of that juicy piece of pork. Sweet, savory spicy and umami – all in one bite.

Diners were then led into the house. Sushi chef Akihisa Kawai gave a crash course on sushi making. We were given our own sushi-making kit with vinegared rice, slices of Alaskan king crab and avocado. The end goal was to make California rolls.

This was a sneaky way to showcase the quality of ingredients that will be found in Nobu’s kitchens. Chef Aki gamely talked about his 20 years as a sushi chef while teaching the finer points of rolling sushi.

We then made our way to the dining table. Marlon Hirsh, the hotel’s general manager, was our host for the day. He said the Nobu restaurant is not meant to be a stuffy fine dining restaurant but a place where businessmen in suits and a family just looking for dinner would be just as comfortable. All the food in Nobu will be served family style at the center of the table to further enhance the experience.

Nobu executive chef Zachary Hillberry said that they are proud to bring Matsuhisa’s food to Manila. He talked about the first Nobu in Miami, which opened after Matsuhisa traveled around Peru and Argentine. The chef icon still does a lot of travelling finding local dishes and ingredients to add dishes to his fusion cuisine.

Hillberry reported that he’s working on his own variation of sisig and tapsilog. And there can be no doubt that he will be adding the Nobu flair to these humble dishes.

Caspar Khamphouy, Nobu’s restaurant manager, then showed off wines and sake that are only available at Nobu restaurants and hotels around the world. These wines are from Napa Valley, while the sake is brewed for Nobu by Hokusetsu on Sado Island. The sake is silky smooth and has none of the usual rough aftertaste.

Khamphouy explained that when Matsihisa tastes something he likes, he wants to make it exclusively his own.

Lunch was served after sampling the wines and sake. First up was the Jalapeno Yellow Tail, one of the signature dishes of Nobu. The jalapeno pepper is used to add flavor instead of wasabi. The result is a very different sort of heat that is accustomed to in Japanese dishes.

We were then served the White Fish with Dry Miso. I did not expect such an explosion of flavor from such a simple looking dish – a slice of fish with red powder and a garlic chip. Molecular gastronomy was used to transform miso soup into dry powder. One bite combined the delicateness of the fish, the crunch of the garlic, the umami of the miso and the acidity of the calamansi. The result is an explosion of flavor and texture that amazed me how much character they were able to put in just one bite.

Next out of the kitchen was the King Crab Amazu Ponzu. These are crab cakes topped with onions and micro-cilantro. This was meant to be tossed like a salad so that the cakes coated with sweet and salty sauce with some jalapeno, and tempered with siling labuyo. Combining this with the cilantro is a bite with an unfamiliar, yet very pleasant, combination of flavors.

The Black Cod Den Miso was buttery soft and reminded me of Chilean sea bass. This just melts in your mouth. The black cod is braised in miso, complementing the fish. We were served individual portions but can be served as a whole fillet.

Trays of sushi were brought to the table. This came with the California maki made during the sushi-making session, spicy tuna rolls, futomaki, and assorted sushi of squid, salmon and tuna. The futomaki is a larger roll than the others and is made up of white-tail, masago, crab and nori.

The meal was wrapped up by Kanji, a dessert made with plum cream, raspberrry gelee, topped with a disc of matcha sponge cake and orange meringue. This was a great dessert to end the meal. Light and still had that masterful mix of flavors in one bite that was present all throughout lunch.

There are high expectations for a world-renowned name entering the bustling restaurant scene. Having a sneak taste of what Nobu will be serving up makes me think that local foodies will be very pleased.

This was an extraordinary meal which was characterized by combining flavors and textures in Nobu’s unique way into one perfect bite. It’s that feeling of culinary discovery that really made this meal special and what will make Nobu in Manila special.

Watch out for Nobu’s soft opening this December at the City Of Dreams Manila.

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