The invitation to Nobu's 15th birthday party this week wasn't too hard to accept. Admittedly, I was hoping to be fed (I decided to break my "no canapé" rule in advance), but it was principally because the Park Lane sushi restaurant has become such an institution on the London restaurant scene.
A decade and a half might not seem that long for a business, but restaurant years are somewhere between dog and cat years, meaning that 15 is positively ancient.
Today there are 29 Nobus around the world, and it's a mark of their success that only two have closed since they started. After first convincing Hollywood (Robert De Niro became an investor) and the US, London was the first European outpost of this Japanese phenomenon.
Housed in the same place (the Metropolitan Hotel) as the Met Bar, in the late 1990s era of Brit Pop, Nobu's unremarkable-looking building was about the coolest place you could find yourself on any given evening, with hopefuls and paparazzi forever jostling outside. Yet while the Met Bar's cool faded and its velvet rope drooped ever lower, Nobu has stood its ground.
The man behind the Park Lane venue is chef Nobu Matsuhisa. His signature miso black cod dish has been copied so much it has earned him the sobriquet of the Codfather.
"When I first came here, the only Japanese restaurants were the old, traditional types, there was nothing else," he told me. "I also went to the fish market and saw there was so much wonderful fish, but hardly any of it was being used for sushi. "We didn't want to be too formal. We wanted everyone to be happy when they left."
The anniversary came into sharper focus when I received an invitation to the 15th birthday of Yo! Sushi – the high-street chain where Japanese morsels arrive by conveyor belt on colour-coded plates.
Of course, sushi existed in this country before those restaurants came along, but they, along with the others that quickly followed, made a serious mark on the going-out scene. It might not seem so exciting now that every supermarket and sandwich chain has its own selection of sushi, but 1997 was the year that raw fish became seriously cool.
- More about:
- Brit Rock
- Robert De Niro