A buffet is part of the grand tradition of hotel dining, so it’s curious that Nobu's version of a smorgasbord only happens once a week and during brunch, as if a reward for those who are willing to pay for Saturday night’s debauchery with a wake-up call, a long drive, and excellent sushi. In case you’re wondering, the sushi is more than makes up for all that effort.
Nobu’s Sunday brunch buffet is only 20 paces long. There’s an extra five steps if you walk to the kushiyaki station, another five if you tread to the special carving area. Dessert is nearest the entrance and farthest from everything else, a fascinating multi-colored display that lures you in, but makes you strive because it’s worth it. The selection is decidedly Nikkei, the Japanese-Peruvian fusion that Chef Nobu Matsuhisa himself pioneered. There are rows of fresh oysters, trays of yakisoba, mouthwatering rounds of okonomiyaki. Perky pink tuna and bright orange salmon come in all permutations—beautiful plump slices, rolled around in rice and nori, wading in savory sauces, smooth tataki, painted with glazes and served as tiradito.
Everything is served in individual bowls or saucers, perhaps to remind our sushi-addled hunger that Japanese food is always about moderation. But despite the extremely edited selection, there is still something excessive about this buffet: a cuisine that demands premium ingredients in a world-famous hotel asks for a pretty penny and the seeming moderation makes it easier to clear plate after plate.
Anyone who’s as obsessed with Japanese cuisine would find the setup intoxicating. In true Japanese tradition, gentle grace is applied in every museum-worthy plate: pale pink lapu-lapu bathing in a golden sauce, chunks of salmon crowned with fresh micro herbs. It’s difficult and slightly gauche to take the first serving that would distort their masterpiece of a display, but someone has to do it—several times: from the fiery spicy tuna roll, to the multilayered Chef’s Special Maki, to the light-and-biting Shima Aji Shiso. A little glass tube holds pretty white cubes and miniscule flowers floating in a clear broth. It looks intriguingly like a dessert, but the sauce is savory and salty, reminiscent of miso, and the curious cube is fish. It’s a shot as easy to get hooked on as Patron.
Chef Mike de Jesus, who heads Nobu’s kitchens, plunks a tiny bowl in front of us. It’s a raw fish salad—poke—that’s currently new to the lineup. Another one of those things that is cautiously light enough to make you want it by the bucketful., it may be Hawaiian, but the appetizer fits the Japanese-Peruvian sensibilities of the brand. This happens often. Most of the dishes are classic Nobu, but the chef gets away with his original creations every now and then. As if on cue, a server presents something that could pass off as your everyday chicken slider, except that it’s made with toasted baos and the flavor is much more potent. The ketchup is a homemade bomb of umami flavor, made with kurogoma, cinnamon, nori, bean sprouts, and tomatoes.
The grill station keeps things casual, a taste of street-side comfort amid the extravagance of sushi and sashimi—not that they skimped the quality on the skewers of mushroom, asparagus, eggplant, chicken, beef, and chicken skin. Make sure to douse everything in the Peruvian sauce, painting each stick with smoky, spicy, sweet flavor.
Two sections deserve much more attention than what they’re given: the hot station where you can load up on yakisoba and miso-glazed cod and the carving station, the only place that elicits a noncommittal shrug in the face of lechon. The central dish changes every week. Sometimes it’s lechon, sometimes it’s steak. Today, it’s a beautiful baked salmon, a wonderful option for those averse to raw fish. It’s soft, succulent, yet still very flaky. After all the coarse baked salmon we’ve had elsewhere, we’ve forgotten that this is how salmon should taste.
The best part about this buffet is the bubbly. After all, nothing brings out the flavor of a chocolate lava cake better than champagne. And you can’t help but toast for being in a buffet like this.
Nobu is at G/F Nobu, City of Dreams, Aseana Avenue, Parañaque City; tel. no. (02) 691-2882; available only on Sundays.