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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 14th October 2005

Nobu Berkeley


When people find out I used to work for Vanity Fair, they often ask about the Oscar party. What's it like being surrounded by all those celebrities? The answer, rather surprisingly, is that it's a bit anti-climatic. The problem with packing so many stars into one room is that there's no space left for ordinary mortals and, without members of the public around to swoon over them, the celebrities seem weirdly diminished. Paradoxically, if Vanity Fair invited fewer celebrities, the Oscar party would be a lot more glamorous.

The Ivy has solved this problem by having a two-tier reservations policy. Celebrities can get a table at the drop of a hat, but regular punters have to book six months in advance. The upshot is that there's always a healthy mix of A-list stars and total nobodies and this combination makes for an electric atmosphere.

Nobu Matsuhisa has taken a leaf out of the Ivy's book and opened a new branch of his eponymous restaurant in Berkeley Square that has a "no reservations" policy. Mr and Mrs Chav can supposedly wander in off the street and, provided they're prepared to wait for an hour or so in the downstairs bar, be guaranteed a table. In reality, of course, celebrities can call up and reserve a table at any time, so, like the Ivy, Nobu Berkeley has a nice mixture of the famous and the non-famous, the chic and the not-so chic. That's the idea, anyway.

Unfortunately, Mr Matsuhisa has made the mistake of seating the different sets of people in two separate rooms, thereby defeating the whole point of the two-tier system. The restaurant is situated on the first floor and when you get to the top of the stairs, the rich and famous are shown to the right, while the walk-ins are herded into a kind of pigpen on the left. I can quite understand why someone would want to come back to the Ivy after being made to wait six months since there's always a chance they might be seated next to Posh and Becks. But why would an ordinary customer ever make a second visit to Nobu Berkeley?

On the night I went, I was recognised by the maitre 'd and, thankfully, managed to avoid the mosh pit of Burberry-wearing looky-loos, all craning their necks to see if anyone important was being ushered into the VIP section. The food was every bit as good as I've come to expect from Nobu, the highlight being the Yellowtail Sashimi with Mr Matsuhisa's famous Jalapeno sauce, but it was the restaurant-equivalent of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. The beautiful people surrounded me on every side, most of them flashing an unseemly amount of bum cleavage, but there weren't enough regular folks around to be impressed by them--at least, not in the part of the restaurant I was in. I was the only person in the VIP section kicking my dining companion and saying, "Don't turn round, but guess who just sat down behind you?" (It was Jasper Conran.)

David Collins, the ubiquitous interior designer, has completely surpassed himself on this occasion. The piece-de-resistance are the gents toilets downstairs, which combine blood-spattered, stainless steel walls with Kheils moisturiser dispensers. Who on earth is Nobu Berkeley supposed to be for? Metrosexual axe-murderers? (The ideal customer would be Patrick Bateman, the hero of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho.) This strange combination of vanity and brutality sums up the restaurant's atmosphere. Well-groomed masochists wait patiently in the bar downstairs so they can be ritually humiliated by the restaurant's staff when their number finally comes up.

As my wife and I were leaving, I shook my head with despair and told her that this new Nobu would never fly. We were then immediately confronted by a huge mob of people clamouring to get into Funky Buddha, a nightclub right next door. They were indistinguishable from the preening wannabes crammed into the departure lounge at Nobu. Of course, I thought. Mr Matsuhisa has figured out a way to duplicate the ego-shredding experience of going to a fashionable London club. For reasons I don't fully understand, Nobu Berkeley will no doubt be a roaring success.

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