Restaurant Review: Nobu at One&Only Cape Town offers largest sushi and sashimi selection in Cape Town


I had been to Nobu just after it opened two years ago, and was not very impressed by it, due to a service issue, but a return visit on Saturday evening, at the invitation of the One&Only Cape Town and its PR Consultant Ian Manley, was a delight, with a noticeable menu and service evolution in the past two years, with unique Japanese, Peruvian and even South African elements in it.  Nobu serves the largest sushi and sashimi selection in South Africa, I was told, and with the most unusual ingredients, such as abalone, scallop, lobster and langoustine.

Hostess Delphine welcomed us, and said that she had left after the opening training, but had returned again, and did the traditional Nobu greeting of Irashamase, which is echoed by all her staff, meaning ‘welcome to our house’.   We were well looked after by waitress Nonte and sommelier Keith, and especially by manager Sebastian, who was most knowledgeable and sought information from the chef when  he could not answer a question.  He has been at Nobu since its opening.  I asked Sebastian why he and the staff were not wearing a name badge, and he told me that all the staff are part of the team, and no individual stands out.

The restaurant, like Reuben’s, is downstairs, with a very high ceiling which contains lighting that looks like Japanese paper lamps.  We asked about the circles which run along the walls, but could not find an explanation for them, as they are unique to Nobu.  Sebastian found out that American Adam D. Tihany was the interior designer.   Tables have black lacquer tops, and chairs are dark stained.  In general, the lighting is low.

Owner Nobuyuki Matsuhisa worked in Peru after he trained in Japan, and then opened a restaurant in Alaska.  It burnt down two months after opening.  He then opened Matuhisa in Los Angeles, and in 1992 he opened Nobu in New York, with actor Robert de Niro as a major backer.  There are now 28 Nobus around the world.  Sebastian told me which dishes are the classic trademark ones, which one is likely to find at any Nobu (we can attest to that, as a group of Americans sat next to us, and they immediately discussed these as well, clearly knowing them from past experience at another Nobu):

*   Yellowtail sashimi and jalapeno (R115)

*   New style sashimi, lightly seared (R75 – R210)

*   Tiradito (sashimi and chilli) (R105 – R210)

*   Tuna sashimi salad (R110)

*   Black Cod Den Miso is the best known dish of all, the cod being marinated in the Den Miso sauce for 3 days (R395)

*   Prawn Tempura in rock shrimp style, fried in cotton seed oil, and served with ponzu, creamy spicy and jalapeno sauces (R125)

*   Omakase, the chef’s recommendation, in which the chef prepares a 7-course meal based on what the patron likes to eat, consisting of two cold appetisers, a salad, one hot fish dish, one hot beef dish, soup and sushi (served after the main courses in Japanese style), and a dessert, at R 550.

The menu had a cardboard cover, with replaceable pages inside, allowing for regular menu changes.  Blanched soya beans sprinkled with sea salt were brought to the table while we were discussing the menu, and they became more-ish as I got the hang of eating them out of the pod.  If I eat Asian foods in Cape Town, I have gone to Haiku  in the past, and therefore I tried more Haiku-like dishes to start, to serve as a comparison.  I started with abalone (R16) and lobster (R28) sushi, its presentation very different to my past experience of what I can now call more ‘commercialised’ sushi.  The lobster sushi was soft and almost jelly-like, and it was explained that it was because it had not been cooked.  I could not recognise it from  the lobster I know.  The abalone had some tough sections to it, and I know that abalone generally needs a good beating and cooking in a pressure cooker because it is so tough.  After posting the photograph of this dish, there was some criticism of the serving of abalone, but Sebastian assured me that the restaurant has a licence to obtain and serve it.  The avocado (R18 for two slices), asparagus (R25 for two), and shitake mushroom (R20 for two) tempura was delicious, with a very light crispy batter.  The highlight however was a new dish recently created by chef Hideki Maeda, which he has included in his 7-course Chef’s Special Omakase tasting menu (R850), being a 100g portion of Wagyu beef imported from Australia, served with foie gras, fig jam, fig tempura and a balsamic reduction (R395) – it was heavenly, a perfect main course size, given the preceding starters and the dessert to follow!   What made it even better was the beautiful slim and elegant Elia cutlery that I ate it with, having used chopsticks for the starters. 

For dessert I ordered Suntory whisky cappuccino, a delicious cappuccino look-alike served in a coffee cup, with four layers inside, and one is encouraged to scoop deep inside the cup to have a taste of all four the layers of coffee brûlée, cocoa crumble (adding a wonderful crunch), milk ice cream and the Suntory infused froth on top – an absolute treat.   I was surprised to see a selection of desserts, all costing around R60 – R75, that were largely ‘Westernised’, including a local malva pudding.  The winter menu special is a 5-course meal with one appetiser, the Rock shrimp tempura, Beef Toban Yaki, soup and sushi, and a dessert, at R299, and is a good way to try some of the classic international Nobu dishes.

The winelist has a brown leather cover, and contained a selection of cocktails and Sake (R150 – R590 for 150 ml), as well as of mainly local and some French wines.  It is not as extensive as that at Reuben’s by any means.   Sommelier Keith is Let’s Sell Lobster trained, and worked at The Round House after his training.  It showed in that the wines-by-the-glass we ordered were brought to the table poured and untasted by ourselves, Keith saying that this is how he had been taught.  He did oblige by pouring the subsequent wines at the table, and allowing us to taste them.  Wines served by the glass include Pommery Brut Royale (R175/R850), Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve (R200/R975), Billecart Brut Rosé (R295/R1550), Graham Beck Brut (R49/R240), Villiera Tradition Brut (R44/R210), and Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R98/475).  White wines range from R34 for 150 ml of Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc to R74 for Rustenberg Chardonnay.  Red wines start at R54 for 150 ml of Springfield Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon to R118 for Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2009.  About five options are offered per variety, and the Shiraz selection started at R 280 for La Motte 2008, up to R560 for Luddite 2005.

Nobu has something and more for everyone that appreciates excellent Asian style cuisine, and Haiku won’t be seeing me in a great hurry again, as there is much more variety, friendlier service, and no star order minimum at Nobu.  The professional service by Sebastian was a large part of the enjoyment of our dinner at Nobu. 

Nobu, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 431-5888. (The hotel website contains a page for Nobu, with a menu and winelist, but the photographs are in a general Image Gallery, unmarked, and mixed with those of Reuben’s and the Vista Bar).  Monday – Sunday, dinner only.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:   Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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15 replies on “Restaurant Review: Nobu at One&Only Cape Town offers largest sushi and sashimi selection in Cape Town”

  1. Cathy says:

    Hi Chris, Just to add a restaurateur’s point of view about the wine by the glass comment. I suspect you might find that the wines are poured before being brought to you because they are poured to some kind of measure behind the bar. In order to maintain consistency and also keep the costings correct, it is very difficult for a restaurant to allow their waiters to ‘free pour’ at the tables. If we were serving an unfamiliar wine to a customer by the glass, we would send out a taster glass first and then, if it was liked, we would pour the correct measure in a new glass after that. I’m not sure if this is the reason why Nobu did it this way but suspect it may be, and for what it’s worth – apart from their failure to give you a taste beforehand – I believe this is the best way to serve wine by the glass. Cheers!

  2. darren says:

    i have eaten here quite a few times both personally and with clients, while the food is good the most common complaint is the atmosphere, just dont know if its the high ceiling or the fact that it feels like its in a basement, so def a place to go for food but not a place to stay and relax.

    I have to agree that i stopped going because of the service, it was just a joke and once i was offerred a free “plum” wine as compensation, my goodness i wonder what they would have given me if i complained with both barrels.

    You say that the service from the manager really made it for you, i wonder if he didnt know that you were invited by the PR team would the service have been so good, it gets back to my previous point of accepting invitations as it def affects the level of service the invitee recieves.

  3. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Hi Darren

    Thanks for your Nobu feedback.

    I am a nothing compared to the heads of state and international film stars and producers who were staying at the hotel at the same time. I have been told that the new Food & Beverage Manager Nick Patmore and the Executive Assistant Manager Gerhard Erasmus realised that service is the biggest complaint that the hotel received in the past. They are working at this ardently, so much so that I saw Nick Patmore clearing tables and taking orders at the Reuben’s breakfast on Sunday morning, not just at our table. Gerhard Erasmus was at the Reuben’s breakfast too, greeting his guests.

    The tables at Nobu are so close together that I would have picked up if we received better or different service to our neighbours to the right and left of us. Waitress Nonte answered every “Is it possible to …” question from me with “It’s possible” automatically, and made it happen.


  4. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Thanks for your input Cathy.

    I have experienced the pouring of wine-by-the-glass away from the table at only one other restaurant, being Jardine, and I could not help but view the sommelier’s action as one of arrogance, when he told me that his job is to test the wine and taste it on his guests’ behalf. He has never done that to me again, I must add! Given that Keith comes from Let’s Sell Lobster/The Round House, I suspect a similar arrogance in their operation!


  5. Brandon says:

    what is the purpose of tasting – is it to check whether you like the wine or to check whether the wine is off? if the latter then it is quite accepable for the sommelier to have already checked. would we send back a bottle of wine because it wasn’t to our taste?

  6. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Dear Brandon

    The first reason for wanting the wine poured at the table is to confirm that the vintage offered on the winelist is indeed the one poured – I have been caught short on this on a number of occasions, and have been surprised by how restaurants just assume that it is okay to serve a younger vintage if the listed one has run out, without checking on this with the customer first.

    Secondly, it is to taste the wine too, before committing to a glassful.


  7. Graham says:

    Hi Chris,
    Your reviews are among the best written in SA and I enjoy reading them. However whenever I see that you have been invited by the restaurant or their PR, I am inclined to treat what follows as pure PR. And when you are offered expensive wine on the house (eg Dash) I stop reading. You cannot ensure your integrity and objectivity by accepting these requests. Unless you wish for your top class site to be relegated to just another PR channel.


  8. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    I respect your point of view Graham.

    I cannot be “bought” by a glass of good Shiraz! I remain critical, and really believe that Dash is outstanding, and will make Eat Out Top 10 next year (if the chef stays for the November – November period that the award requires.

    I paid for the Dash dinner on Sunday evening, and had the two glasses of wine offered by Alton, the Food & Beverage Manager. I was impressed by him remembering from another chat that I love an old-fashioned smoky style Shiraz, and he took the trouble to find one that met this description, a special touch that typifies his service level, and therefore makes Dash even more special.


  9. Graham says:


    You have missed the message.

    Firstly you note on your site that you are “independant”. Accepting freebies compromises this key principle. The level to which you aspire and ensure your independance determines the level of your credibility. True independance must be to act independantly, and be SEEN to be acting independantly. Ultimately it will be your readers who then ascertain the extent to which you have independance, and therefore the extent to which your reviews are meaningful.

    Secondly, surely you can accept that if you are expected and recognised, that the service that you receive may be higher than otherwise could be the case.

    The point that I am making above goes to the heart of where you wish to position yourself as a restaurant critic. It is therefore not sufficient to just brush this off as to whether you can be bought or not.


  10. Addy says:

    Chris – I for one am looking forward to your response on the points raised by Graham above.

  11. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Dear Graham

    Let me try to articulate my response better:

    * ‘independent’ means not accepting advertising, so that my freedom of speech is not compromised

    * accepting invitations, and these are always declared in my blogposts, does not compromise my independence, nor my ability to criticise (see my review of the Queen Victoria Hotel regarding the check-in).

    * On my blog you will know if I was invited to a function, as it is declared – the majority of other bloggers do not declare this – cynically the rest of us read these, having been to the same functions, and joke about those bloggers not wanting to offend in their reviews nor declare the freebies, so that they are re-invited!

    * recognition is a ‘problem’ all reviewers face – e.g. JP Rossouw. One cannot factor this out, and arrive in disguise, especially if one comes to do a repeat review. Waiters and managers move around the industry, and may recognise one in this way. I rarely pre-book, and if I were to, it is always just as Chris, without a surname. Let me assure you that most senior management is at home when I frequent their establishments, especially on weekends, and this is when the service and meal quality evaluation is really interesting. Most restaurants treat me as a ‘normal’ patron, and do not afford me any special or different service attention, and this is how it should be. With tables close together in many restaurants, it is easy for me to see and hear how other patrons are treated.

    Recognition does not always have a positive result – I was apparantly identified at Cafe des Arts, perhaps by one of the other Franschhoekers eating there, and was told on this blog by the owners that they had expected and been warned about me – their indifferent and disinterested service was the result of this ‘recognition’.


  12. Ryan says:

    Your answer is concise but in my opinion contradictory to your Cafe des Arts review.

    There you had the opinion of…”I payed so am entitled to review”?

    Quite frankly…if the Queen Vic comp-ed you, if I were them I’d be more than a little miffed if I didn’t get a tip top 100% superdooper review?

    Or would You be thrilled to invite some one around to one of your places at your own expense only for them to go away and tell everyone how poor they thought it was?

    Let me say that I’m not sure what the correct answer in this situation is. Sure, you are trying to keep an “objective” opinion for your readers….but at a bare minimum, it’s bladdy poor form as a “guest” in the real sense of the word(you did not pay).

    Or rather….if I invite you around to my pad comp AND say, give you R500….will you do me a good review.

    Oh, heck…fck it…don’t even come around, just give me your bank account details to make the deposit and you can make it all up?

    I guess that is when You really know you have made it as a food reviewer.?

  13. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Dear Ryan

    I am not quite sure what you are trying to say, especially towards the end of your Comment.

    There is no guarantee for an inviting host that a review will be written at all, or that it will be 100% positive, if written.

    This evening I saw the newsletter ‘Main Ingredient’ of John and Lynne Ford, who stayed at Abalone House in Paternoster as guests, and they harshly slated the terrible 6-course meal they had at Saffron, the in-house restaurant. I admire them for their honesty and integrity in writing this.

    I am surprised that you defend Cafe des Arts, when you have your own restaurant Ryan’s Kitchen in Franschhoek.


  14. Ryan says:

    the last part of my post was humour.

    I will defend cafe des arts as I pass by regularly and I enjoy their product. Many regulars of theirs are regulars of mine. We offer 2 completely different products.

    I just find it strange that at worst an establishment could expect a “luke warm” response if they had invited a reviewer? Or as an alternative…had the evening been disasterous, afforded time to rectify and improve before inviting for a second attempt?

    Granted, I acknowlege that I am looking at this situation from the establishments point of view.
    Still think incognito and payed for is the best way to go.

  15. Chris von Ulmenstein says:

    Dear Graham

    I am taking a firm stand against disparaging Comments. I welcome your positive contribution.


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