After Takumi closed earlier this year, sushi legend Hatsushiro Muraoka, fondly known as Papa San, joined forces with chef-partner Ben Bettendorf to open Obi on Long Street. We reported in May that the two saw Obi as an opportunity to showcase the clean flavours of Japanese cuisine, and this they do here with simplicity and skill.
The menu opens with a little welcome note from the owners and some important info like 10% being added automatically to your bill, and to request no children under the age of five. (Papa San’s list of strict house rules is notably absent.)
You could kick off with some trademark Takumi starters, like the sweet and soft nasu miso (aubergine with honey-miso dressing) and agedashi (deep-fried tofu in broth with bonito flakes), or some appealing tempura options.
The shōyu ramen is deeply comforting, but quite light and softly savoury. A generous portion of silky straight noodles glisten in a broth alongside strips of pork cheek, sheets of nori, spring onions and a beautifully done egg. The other noodle dish of udon and tofu in dashi broth will suit vegetarians.
There are three pages of ‘inside out’ sushi rolls organised under the main ingredient (salmon, prawn, vegetarian, tuna) with some Papa San trademarks, sashimi and maki, with enough range to suit the traditionalists as well as the adventurous. The sushi rolls arrive lined up all in a row on some beautiful handmade crockery and stoneware. Dainty bowls for soy sauce and wasabi have sweet floral touches.
You can slake your thirst with the usual soft drinks, beers, hard tack (including Nikka whisky), Japanese and plum sake, and a handful of wines. The tea selection includes rooibos, Five Roses tea and matcha, which comes in a beautiful traditional teacup perfect for cradling between your palms.
Obi’s simple space stands out in refreshing contrast to the many of the image-conscious and over-designed eateries in this part of the city. During the day it’s a little gloomy and moody, with black concrete floors and frosted glass windows, through which you might peer through from the outside to detect movement within. Comfortable black chairs and wooden tables seem similar to those, if not the same ones, at Takumi, and there are a few padded scarlet booths for those who want to cosy up closer. Traditional Japanese music, if a little odd to the Western ear at times, keeps things on theme. Soy sauce bottles and pretty side plates are ready and waiting at each place setting, but that’s about it in terms of the perfunctory décor. The lunchtime crowd is still catching on, so it’s pretty quiet on the occasion of my visit, but Papa San tells me they’ve been fully booked each night in the past week. The lower end of Long Street doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic after dark, so eager customers are making it a sure thing by reserving tables in advance – as should you.
Our waitress is very attentive and food is quickly prepared – even the ramen, which the menu warns might take up to 20 minutes. If you’re lucky, Papa San might emerge from the kitchen to walk amongst tables and see how you’re enjoying things.
Obi offers sushi classes on Saturday afternoons.