by Michael Frank
Just a few blocks off the quite bustling Great Eastern Street in London lies the wedge-shaped Nobu Shoreditch. From the back-end, it looks somewhat like the purposefully mesmerizing armor of a Japanese samurai in battle regalia—all sharp angles and walls of glass. But from the entrance, it’s distinctly subdued. The design doesn’t quite fit in a neighborhood that dates to Roman times, though Shoreditch today is a hodge-podge of soot-worn factory brick and towering glass spires. It blends as much as the very idea of Nobu’s worldwide outposts being fusions of new and old ideas, and that blend plays very successfully for a property that, itself, is trying very hard to satisfy a discerning patron.
Entering Nobu’s lobby is a break from the cacophony of the surrounding neighborhood. There’s a stone front desk, walled from behind by a modern take of a traditional Japanese bamboo forest fence, as well as a flat stone floor. It’s minimalist. It’s reasonably quiet, too. The casual clubbiness of the newly opened Nobu Cafe generates a conversational friendliness, but there’s no thumping back beat to shout over.
Likewise, the rooms are excellent—because they’re also quiet. You won’t hear anything from above or from beside your room. Double-thick glass and a rolling wood shoji screen-cum-window blinds black out all light and all sound from the street. (Don’t forget that London summers feature daylight from 5AM.) Nightlife party monsters don’t enjoy early daylight and Nobu’s creators clearly understand that.
In even in the smallest deluxe accommodation, you’ll find a king-sized bed, high-thread-count sheets, and thoughtful touches like direction-able reading lamps just above laying down level, so if you’re seized by jet lag you can read without disturbing your bed mate.
While the room is small, it’s exquisitely laid out. Low-pile carpeting is kinder to bare feet than tiles or floorboards, and no detail has been overlooked. The Japanese bamboo fencing theme carries over into the corridor of the entry, where the walls are latticed in calligraphy-black strands of pine that stretch from floor to ceiling and effectively elongate the entry. The bathroom is all open white cabinetry with a tiled shower stall and the centerpiece, freestanding gold basin of the sink is both blingy, and because everything else is so stark, fits just fine. Back in the bedroom a custom, black-lacquered wall unit houses the TV, but also hides it, and at its base is both a dresser and the minibar. Everything tucks neatly away. Likewise, a small sitting area has both a tidy coffee table and a low wooden chair and a more comfortable modernist wing chair for reading. Even the closet—which are generally tiny in junior suites—is spacious and lined with beautifully textured wallpaper.
For those on work trips, the WiFi is not only free but also quite fast. Plus, the gym offers a decent assortment of cardio, free weights and machines—and 24-hour access. We shouldn’t have to point out these as distinctions, but it is these small touches that make a property stand out.
This is a Nobu outpost and, as such, you should expect nothing less than excellent food and drinks, with multiple ways to consume. Go supreme, and head down the back staircase to the left of reception, and you’ll enter a cathedral-sized space (or perhaps it’s more a Nagoya monastery), with an open kitchen at one end, a cavernous bar area with tall tables and stools, an entire wall of whisky, shochu, sake (and of course other elixirs) and the entire room opens onto a sunken patio/Japanese garden, where you can dine and sip alfresco a story below the fray of Shoreditch’s boisterous scene.
Our advice: get there before 8PM and grab a cocktail at the bar, then sit down for dinner and order the prix fixe £110 omakase. You’ll get to sample a range of offerings beyond the signature, but frankly better-copied black cod. For instance, the scallops we had were divinely prepared, and as tender and fresh as you’ll ever have, and subtly spiced with wasabi.
An alternative is to order small bites in the newly opened Nobu Cafe off the lobby. There you can order drinks and nibble on pan-Asian/New World bites like yummy Nobu Tacos (lobster wasabi, wagyu beef, snow crab yuzu, etc), or just get the incredible chocolate-ginger brownie and a professionally prepared espresso.
Nobu Shoreditch adds up to being pretty close to perfect at its franchise model. While fitting into the Nobu theme (that is, not being too much a part of the local culture), it blends in fairly seamlessly. Each time we made our way back to the hotel after exploring London, it felt like we were home and could shed a layer and relax. That’s when you know a hotel really works.
Images courtesy of Will Pryce for Nobu Shoreditch