Eighteen months after opening and Nobu Doha is still labelled as the hottest ticket in town. It has a handful of awards to show for it, too. Picking up “Best Japanese Restaurant in Doha” (Time Out Awards), “One to Watch” (GCC 2016 Food and Travel Awards) and the prestigious “Restaurant of the Year” (BBC Good Food Middle East Awards). Nobu Doha has certainly made its mark in the Middle East. But, despite many of the big luxury hotel brands opening up there, restaurant competition in this rapidly growing city is still slim.
The Nobu sushi empire opened its Qatar offshoot in April 2015 at the city’s Four Seasons hotel. Designed by New York firm the Rockwell Group—responsible for Tao Downtown in New York and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles—the building itself is stunning, featuring a Guggenheim-esque (New York) pure white modernist structure. The contrast between the blue sky meeting the Arabian Gulf and the elegant, white lines of the building is striking.
Nobu Doha juts out into the water of the Arabian Gulf like a lighthouse — a beacon for the rich, famous and distinguished patrons that have frequented it since its opening.
The largest of all the Nobu restaurants—spanning a jaw-dropping 26,000 square feet (that’s over half the size of a football pitch!) over three levels—the restaurant features a main dining room, a sushi counter, a private dining room, the White Pearl Bar and Lounge and the Black Pearl Bar and Lounge.
On one particularly boisterous Thursday evening early summer I dined in the restaurant’s main dining room, besides locals who were entertaining out-of-towners, groups of women quaffing cocktails and families young and old who I imagine to be the glitterati of Doha. What’s more, guests get to make a glamorous entrance if they’re staying at the Four Seasons hotel as they’re whisked from the hotel doors to the restaurant entrance (it takes less than two minutes) in a private car.
The restaurant’s well-heeled guests have most likely dined at other Nobu restaurants around the world and the food—a meeting of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine—follows the same format. The menu is broken down into “Tapas” dishes; “Nobu Bites”, cold dishes, such as sashimi, ceviche, tacos and hot dishes, such as tempura, wagyu beef and a selection of brick-oven cooked dishes.
The food is as fun and sexy as the venue. Colourful sushi platters arrive alongside beef tenderloin and crispy tofu. A selection of shrimp, asparagus and scallop tempura flows, as does a Yakimono (grilled and pan-fried) duck breast and that black cod with yuzo miso and soft shell crab spring rolls. The food has tonnes of flair and holds its own against this glamorous destination.
“When I worked at the Burj Al Arab’s Al Mahara seafood fine-dining restaurant in Dubai (the same Al Mahara that is soon to be taken over by British chef Nathan Outlaw) my chef de cuisine at that time had Nobu cookbooks and I was looking at them thinking ‘this is amazing; I need to learn how to do this!’
“Before that, when I was in Germany, I had no idea who Nobu was,” Bozoki, the head chef of Nobu Doha reveals.
Chef Bozoki has cooking in his blood. Far from Doha and the influences of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine, Bozoki was born in Germany, from the southwestern region of Baden-Württemberg, where he trained and developed his early career. He reveals it was even earlier that he got a taste for culinary art, however.
“I became a chef because when I was a small, my grandmother was a pastry chef in like a coffee and pastry shop style place. From four or five years old I watched and then helped her cook. From that young age I’ve wanted to cook.
“You need to love this job to do it and I’ve been a chef now for over 17 years and it’s great. I never expected to be here as the head chef of Nobu Doha, but hard work is the way to do it,” Bozoki says.
Bozoki’s first role in the Middle East was at the self-proclaimed “seven-star” Burj Al Arab before moving on to join Atlantis Dubai’s opening team in 2008. “I was part of the opening team at Atlantis, but not with Nobu, at Seafire Steakhouse,” he reveals.
Bozoki made it clear from the start of his tenure at Atlantis that he was keen to work for Nobu, one of the resort’s other high-end restaurants, and after a year, he was given the opportunity he’d longed for.
“I love the concept [of Nobu] because it’s very honest. There are no chemicals involved [in the food]—the ingredients and presentation—it’s just a great product.
Growing up in Germany, Bozoki had fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and a mix of artisan products at his fingertips. “We had a lot of wild animals around us such as deer and boar, it was very nice to see the basic meats and how it is sourced, rather than seeing it arrive in the kitchen in a bag from another company.”
Many of the ingredients featured on the menu at Nobu are not sourced locally, simply because they’re not available. Nor are they available in the region, with produce travelling from Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas to Doha.
While most Nobu restaurants around the world use as many local ingredients as possible, it’s not so easy in Doha. The hot arid climate means that few local ingredients grow and the water of the Arabian Gulf is too warm to produce fish of the quality required by the restaurant.
“Before we opened [Nobu Doha] it took me roughly six months to source and get the items I needed into the country. We’re the only restaurant here purchasing certain items and some suppliers aren’t interested in importing just to one restaurant, so we have to fund the right suppliers who can provide for us,” says Bozoki.
One special item featured on the menu is hamachi (yellow tail tuna fish), sourced from cold water, which allows the fish to build up a rich fatty texture. The tuna is sustainably sourced from Japan, found by Nobu Matsuhisa himself when creating a television show called Nobu’s Japan. The show followed the chef around rural regions of Japan as he travelled with fellow chefs, including Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert.
Bozoki explains: “One episode of the show featured a special Japanese tuna farm near Nagasaki in Gotō Islands. All Nobu restaurants now source their tuna from this tuna farm—it keeps the quality of the tuna consistent.”
Bozoki also reveals the benefits of farmed over wild tuna: “We receive the fish three times a week from Japan and the quality is amazing. It’s well-fed tuna so there’s a high percentage of ‘belly fat’. The fish is killed in Japan, drained of blood and packed with ice. It’s shipped here the same day and arrives in the restaurant 12 hours later.”
The chef’s Instagram account candidly reveals a tuna fish arriving at the restaurant the week before our visit. “That was a 170 kilo tuna—bigger than me,” laughs the chef.
“During winter we can get tuna up to 270 kilo, but around 100 kilo is the perfect size to get the nice toro (the fatty tuna belly). The bigger they are, the more sinewy the toro is.”
Just before celebrating the first anniversary of Nobu Doha in April 2016, Bozoki welcomed a new addition to the Nobu family with the arrival of his first baby. With a solid team in place and having built up a local and international following, the pressure is off for Bozoki to enjoy fatherhood and culinary creations of Nobu Doha.
Find out more about Nobuyuki Matsuhisa