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From the ridiculous to the sublime

Published 2 March 2008
News Review
763rd article



I've had a somewhat mercurial relationship with Nobu, the oh-so-posh restaurant in Old Park Lane, Mayfair. I went there on November 27, 1997. Hated, hated, hated it.

The service was amateur and diabolical, the food varied from too spicy to eat to just plain lousy. The waitress dropped things all over the table.

I wrote: "I'd like to be lobotomised, so the evening in Nobu is removed from my memory." After that, chefs being petulant idiots, they didn't want me back and I didn't want to go back.

People I respected assured me I'd hit a bad night and an unusually dreadful waitress. I accepted that might be so, as Nobu remained the "in" place, which it still is.

A few years ago, when as far as I knew my banishment had not been lifted, Michael Caine (not then "Sir") asked me to his birthday dinner in Nobu's private room. I was to propose the toast on behalf of his guests.

This will be interesting, I thought as I climbed the steps to the first floor.

Facing me were two girls and a man behind a reception desk. I waited for them to leap over the desk and send me hurtling back into the street. But they smiled graciously, greeted me warmly and directed me to the private room.

That meal was superb in food quality and service. As I left the trio at the desk asked, "How did you like it?"

"Very much indeed," I replied, "and if Michael Caine permits, I will let the world read about it." Michael gave permission so Michael (me) wrote enthusiastically about it.

I never went back to Nobu in Old Park Lane only because I find the low-ceilinged room and the noise rather oppressive. But I did go recently to its third London creation, Nobu Berkeley Street.

I took the ex-girlfriend who accompanied me on my fatal visit in 1997, the lovely Vanessa Perry who featured in this column for many years. She did three commercials and one movie for me. She was a terrific dancer, performing in 42nd Street at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, along with another fine hoofer, Catherine Zeta-Jones. They're great mates.

Catherine became a star.

Vanessa has two children with a nice young man in finance and lives in a splendid listed house in Hertfordshire.

Her eldest son, Marlon, is named after Brando, whom she often met when with me. Marlon greatly liked Vanessa and wrote her a warm letter, which she has rightly framed.

Vanessa (named after Redgrave) was terrified that if I mentioned our past association she'd be blackballed in her home county. I think anyone who's been out with me should be persona non grata in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Hampshire and most of Kent.

I was looking forward to Nobu Berkeley Street because I read my least favourite restaurant designer, David Collins (who did surprisingly well with Fortnum & Mason), had turned it into a forest. I expected a marvellously camp pantomime set. Instead there were a few streaks on one wall. They didn't look much like a forest to me.

Our waiter, Yoram Perez, was brilliant. He brought things speedily, was helpful without being intrusive and took our photo in focus without cutting our heads off.

I bet by now you're saying, "This is meant to be a food column, Michael. Did you eat? If so, are you going to tell us about it?" Oh well, if you insist.

First I asked for a knife and fork instead of chopsticks, "Because I'm common," I explained to Yoram.

I had rock shrimp tempura as a starter, then crispy pork belly with spicy miso and a bowl of rice. Vanessa chose black cod den miso followed by a tuna cut roll. Then "faultless" mango. I had shrimp tempura.

Vanessa's tuna was uncooked. I never eat uncooked fish, and nor should you, because it nearly killed me. But Vanessa, happily, still lives. I also had a lemon, carrot and orange organic smoothie. "A juice for chronic fatigue syndrome which helps boost the immune system," intoned the menu. Tasted great.

The pork belly was better than perfect. Absolutely fantastic. Soft, succulent, crisp on top. Historic. All the food was good. My only criticism is that the Mont Blanc Berkeley dessert had rather chewy meringue. I like it crisper. The room is like a slightly glorified canteen, but not unpleasant.



  • PS: Here's a joke from that splendid musician Chris Rea, currently packing 'em in on a world tour. "Police arrested two boys, one for drinking battery liquid, the other for smoking fireworks. They charged the first boy and let the other one off."

    I thought that was very funny.



    Michael's missives

    Such a lovely picture of Geraldine on her own last week. So much better than the usual photos taken with her grandfather.
    Dennis Pallis, Kent

    May we see more of the delightful Geraldine and read less of the idiotic ramblings of an imbecile please?
    P J Barry, Ireland

    You told us you attended a literary lunch in Manchester. Wouldn't you feel more at home at an illiterate lunch?
    Pablo Robertstart, East Sussex

    I understand you're a self-made man. Is that why you admire your creator so much?
    Stanley Silver, Hertfordshire

    May I point out to Orson Welles (deceased) and Michael Winner (decreased) that the Swiss did not invent the cuckoo clock. The Germans have that dubious honour.
    Darrell Desbrow, Kirkcudbrightshire

    You said you were "not put on Earth to unwrap sugar" which leads one to ask, what were you put on Earth for?
    Allen Dawes, Sunderland