Harobed Ssor

Restaurants | 4 December 2004

In Ubon I sound like a brave Viking queen.

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Off to Ubon, sister restaurant to the famed Japanese fusion establishment Nobu, which is Nobu spelled backwards. No one had to point that out to me, by the way. I spotted it all by myself, which I think proves what I have said all along: I’m a pretty bright cookie. I’m not sure why the reversed spelling conceit annoys me so much but it does. It even makes me think about walking into the restaurant backwards and then signing the credit-card slip as ‘Harobed Ssor’. Harobed. I like that. It makes me sound like a brave Viking queen. ‘And that morning, Queen Harobed set sail with her army and lots of rune stones to do brave warrior-like things before coming home and inventing self-assembly furniture as well as the Alan key.’ I’m sure I’d prefer to be Harobed than Deborah. Do you know Deborah? Well, let me tell you, she’s a bright cookie, no doubt about that, but what a wuss. She once even wrote off a car, wrapping it round a lamppost, because she glimpsed a bee on the handbrake. She is also scared of dentists, bank statements, knocks at the door, Anne Robinson’s wink and putting her feet on the bottom whenever she goes in the sea. Her only real strength is the ability to tread water for superhuman periods of time.

Now, down to business, and the reversed Nobu that is Ubon. Ubon is situated in Canary Wharf, in Westferry Circus which, as far as circuses go, is rubbish. No sawdust or clowns or mistreated ponies or anything. In fact, it’s no more than a very tall office complex. I mention this just in case you were thinking of buying tickets for Westferry Circus as a Christmas treat for the children. They will not enjoy it. Dull, dull, dull. And as for Canary Wharf, not a canary in sight. I don’t know why the trade description people aren’t on to them. Better to pack them off to Harobed so they can play at pillaging while wearing helmets with horns. Not everyone can carry off a helmet with horns, but Harobed can. Not everyone can carry off a bandana, either. But Sirob looked quite lovely. This Sirob, by the way, is not the same Sirob who once had sex in a cupboard at Nobu, although I’m not sure anyone now would put it past him. Frisky devil.

Ubon is on the top floor of the Westferry Circus that isn’t a circus, so it’s up, up, up in the lift, whooshing past the floor for the swanky health club where you can, presumably, purchase swanky health, and into the restaurant, which is truly ‘wow’. Big white 1950s-style lights, dangling amber glass thingamybobs and, best of all, floor-to-ceiling windows and a magnificent panoramic view of the City and the Thames. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day and the river is a glittering and sparkling delight. (Harobed wishes she’d known Ubon was on the Thames. She could have come by longboat instead of the DLR. On the other hand, she might then have worried about getting home in time to invent the glazed round pastries with raisins that would one day put the Eccles cake out of business.) I am with a colleague from the Independent — a compact newspaper much superior to any remaining crappy broadsheets — whose name I will cleverly obscure by calling him ‘Mada’. We haven’t booked but are given a table easily enough. The thing about Ubon is that it’s meant to be more casual than Nobu, less an event, faster. You don’t need to book months in advance to get in, or be a celebrity or any of that rubbish. You don’t even need to have sex in a cupboard, which is entirely optional. However, if you want to do it on one of the chocolate, kibbled banquettes, you may wish to phone ahead first as I believe it is only allowed on certain days of the week. I wouldn’t mind a bit of sex on a kibbled banquette. I wouldn’t mind a bit of sex full stop. Why is it that I’m still the only one at The Sextator who isn’t getting any? Do you think it’s the hat with the horns that’s putting everyone off? Or my really big spear?

The other diners? Largely City boys in Thomas Pink shirts and cufflinks from Links of London, and women in black designer suits with red lipstick and high heels. (Harobed has never seen such finery!) The menu is quite complicated and no helpful explanations are offered. Bright cookie that I am, I don’t have a clue what half the stuff is. Salmon anti-ucho donburi? Nope. Not the faintest. Beef toban yaki? Ditto. Chi ra shi? Ah, yes, that’s ...nope, you’ve lost me again. Thankfully Mada, who has been here before, orders the In & Out Bento Box at £28, so, as much to disguise my ignorance as anything, I do likewise, while pretending, of course, to be totally au fait with what it is.

What is it, then? Well, it turns out to be the 45-minute lunch special offering a selection of Ubon’s signature dishes in a cute box with cute individual compartments and accompanied by a bowl of miso soup. The dishes are: sashimi salad with matsuhisa dressing; rock shrimp tempura with ponzu; the much celebrated black cod; oshitashi; vegetable spicy garlic and assorted sushi. Aside from anything else, it’s rather a pleasure to look at, like something you’d set out for a dolls’ tea party. And the sushi is particularly beautiful, topped by fish that appears stunningly plump and fresh and vivid. But I’m afraid to say it doesn’t taste particularly superior to the sushi you might buy from M&S or Waitrose. Maybe it’s just me, as I’m not wild about sushi anyway. It’s the texture as much as anything. (Harobed, needless to say, is astonished that people in the 21st century are still eating raw food and plans later to visit the kitchen and give a talk with slides about fire and all its many benefits.)

Now, Mada (how I long to add ‘as a hatter’) is very mada for the rock shrimp tempura. ‘Can’t resist it,’ he says. He greedily wolfs a few of mine too. I don’t mind because you do get quite a pile of them and I’ve rather had enough after a bit. Deliciously flavoured, but a little on the greasy side. The black cod, though, is fantastic. You only get a teeny-weeny portion, which is a shame, but the cod itself is fat and pearly and gorgeous while the black varnish is wonderfully and contrastingly thick and sweet. Oshitashi turns out to be a cold spinach dish, with soy and sesame, I think, while the miso soup is as clear and spicy as it should be. The sashimi salad might have been a bit of a non-event. I say that because I can’t remember anything about it now.

The service, I should lastly say, is good, friendly and quick, but I’m wondering if the whole Ubon/Nobu thing isn’t as much about fashion as it is about food. Then again, I suppose, so what if it is? The final bill, including a bottle of water, a glass of wine each and two coffees, comes to nearly £100, so if it’s a quick lunch you’re after it’s hardly Pret A Manger. Still, the Nobu people know what they do (basically Japanese food with Californian twists) and do it well in beautiful restaurants. I did not, in the end, sign the credit-card slip as ‘Harobed’. I didn’t have the courage. I am such a hopeless wuss. One final thought, though: I’m very glad I’m not called ‘Lana’. Toodle-pip!

Ubon, 34 Westferry Circus (yeah, right; not even a single trapeze artist!), London E14, telephone 020 7719 7800.