There’s never been a person with a clearer vision than Chef Nobu Matsuhisa. From his distinctly delicious Japanese fusion cuisine to the decor in his restaurants, and now to the design of his eponymous hotels, Nobu knows a good thing when he sees it. And that includes his taste in bathtubs.
“That was his idea,” actor Robert De Niro explained to Travel + Leisure. “As I remember, when he was looking at the rooms he said, ‘Where’s the bathtub? We have to have it.’”
Nobu has always known what he wants. At 18, he joined the ranks of sushi chefs in Tokyo. However, his quiet but determined curiosity soon got the best of him, leading him on a global food journey with stops in Peru, Argentina, Alaska, and finally to Los Angeles. It was there, in the city of angels, that he opened up his first shop in 1987, Matsuhisa. It quickly became the spot in Hollywood to eat, including for megastar diners like De Niro, who begged and begged Nobu to expand to New York.
“I said if you’re ever interested in doing a restaurant in New York, let me know,” De Niro recalled. “I just knew. It was a no brainer for New York. Traditionally, Japanese restaurants were not that exciting in New York and London. They were good, but never what Nobu did.”
After a few years, the chef relented and, over the decades, that partnership has blossomed into dozens of restaurants and hotel properties dotting the globe. But their latest opening, Nobu Cabo, may be the pair’s best venture yet.
In August, Nobu invited T+L to explore the Cabo property as the paint was drying and the finishing touches put on. Though he was there for a personal vacation with his family (and a few rounds of golf at the Diamonte golf course just down the street), he still took the time to show us around — and slice and dice a few courses of sushi for us.
“Everyone is so nice here,” Nobu, who is nearly 71 but looks closer to 35, said from behind the sushi counter in the hotel’s exclusive Nobu restaurant. “This is 100 percent my Nobu concept: good food and good service. We like to make our guests happy.”
As his assistants looked on in awe and more than a handful of servers stopped by to snap photos, Nobu remained calm. He cut each piece of fish with precision, care, and a laser focus so sharp you’d expect him to keep cutting even if a giant pink elephant singing show tunes charged the room.
“Besides the technique, the most important element is love,” Nobu said, showing the other chefs exactly how he wants his menu — made mostly of local ingredients and fish caught right offshore — prepared.
When he hands over a sushi roll it’s hard not to tremble knowing you’re about to taste greatness. He watched as we each took our first bite of his nori taco, crafted with a crispy shell. There’s no need to feign happiness as each bite is better than the last.
However, perfection isn’t only found in the fish; this commitment to excellence in every tiny detail extends far beyond his sushi in Cabo.
The hotel, located at the very tip of the Baja Peninsula, comes with the minimalist Japanese style Nobu’s restaurants and hotels have become known and loved for. The walls are painted stark white, the lines are clean, and the landscaping is an austere desert chic thanks to its many succulents. It closely mirrors the property’s sister restaurant and hotel in Malibu. But there are also a few touches thrown in here that can’t be found anywhere else.
In each of the hotel’s 200 rooms and suites, guests will find true zen while sleeping in oversized plush white bedsa or sitting out on the furnished patios overlooking the ocean. Yet the real peace comes when guests enter their accommodation’s bathroom, which comes with an oversized teak bathtub. The onsen-style tubs were personally chosen by Nobu to mirror the soaking tubs he used as a child in Japan.
“The teamwork on the design was very important,” Nobu said, refusing to take all the credit for the hotel’s gorgeous design. “We’ve grown like a family.”
That word, family, resonates a lot within the brand.
“We’ve learned a lot from Nobu,” Trevor Horwell, CEO of the Nobu Hospitality Group, told T+L at its sister property, Nobu Malibu, back home in California. “He treats everyone like family. Everybody is very proud.”
Of course, guests shouldn’t travel all that way just to stay in the rooms. Instead, they can head out to lounge by one of the four pools on the property. Though there are lounge chairs for all, it may be best to reserve a private cabana to truly enjoy the luxe experience.
And no visit to Nobu Cabo would be complete without a visit to the hotel’s 13,700-square-foot spa. There, guests can choose from an array of treatments, take a dip in the hydrotherapy pools, get a blowout and pedicure, or just sit in the spa’s sanctuary to relax.
“I think the Nobu Hotel is a perfect place to relax with family or a couple. It’s a very relaxing place,” Nobu said.
As for what’s next for the Nobu Hotel brand, De Niro let us in on a little secret: He found a place in Barbuda he thinks would be the ideal spot for their next venture.
“There’s a beach in Barbuda that I’ve been working on for a long time,” De Niro said, showing me photos of the drop-dead gorgeous shoreline on his phone. “There are 400 acres,” he said, beaming of the discovery he made several years ago while on a vacation for himself.
For now, you’ll have to settle for Cabo. But, that’s okay — Nobu Cabo is pure perfection. Though, don’t tell Nobu that because he still wants to keep his world as simple as possible.
“I am still the same,” he says. “When I started Matsuhisa I had no money. Money is not important. Being a chef was my dream. And now my dream came true. Still, I can make food and talk to people. But, I am still a chef.”