With its ultra low lighting, polished wooden decor and glamorous staff, the ground floor bar of Nobu Melbourne gives the immediate impression that this is a place of and for the beautiful people. Indeed, the high profile of founder and executive chef Nobuyuki Masuhisa and the even higher profile of part-owner Robert De Niro has worked well to create the restaurant brands worldwide reputation for great food and "coolness".
The sleek yet casual atmosphere of the bar continues into the dining room below and we are welcomed and escorted to our table with a cheerful chorus of 'Irrashai!" I am the only female in a group of six and this is quickly noticed by the staff, who draw on all their charm and experience to ensure I am treated like the lady I clearly am.
While I feel the pressure of responsibility as I select a bottle for the table, I am expertly guided through the wine selection (although it's sake all the way for us tonight) and then onto the menu. Many of the dishes on offer (and there are a lot) are designed to be shared and my tablemates enthusiastically discuss the options while a bowl of salted soy beans works well to prime our taste buds.
When the food arrives and the feast begins there is a great delight, as each dish appears to be even better than the last and the insistence of 'you have to try this!' is repeated across the table. I can see in the faces of my friends that Nobu is the new and possibly permanent favourite.
For me, however, the Nobu experience isn't about the food. It never could be and I never expected it to be. While vegetarian dishes are not a complete unknown in Japanese cuisine of any kind or fusion, in my experience (which admittedly is somewhat limited) they certainly lack the wow factor of the seafood and beef. So while my tempura vegetables and teriyaki skewers prevented me from going hungry my taste buds couldn't revel in delight like those of others and, while they were perfectly steamed, my $18 broccoli "salad" made me feel like Nobu was having a laugh.
As a vegetarian you won't love Nobu for the food. But you will love the atmosphere that lacks all trace of pretentiousness and the amazing service that truly lets you enjoy your time and make you feel like one of the beautiful people, whether you're the sole lady or not. So ensure you go there with people you love spending time with, a willingness to sample the sakeson offer and if outnumbered by carnivores, beware that your commitment to vegetarianism may be severely tested.