Robert De Niro, Nobu Toronto and a ‘one of a kind’ residential complex

as seen in The Globe and Mail

Robert De Niro is having a problem. The renowned star of The Deer Hunter and Little Fockers is in Toronto to lend his name to Nobu Residences, a restaurant, hotel and condominium project that is soon to rise in the humming Entertainment District. He and his team – developers, executives, architect, designer, and the man himself, chef Nobu Matsuhisa – are perched on two rows of tall director’s chairs, feet suspended above the ground.

Mr. De Niro is holding a water in one of those small, square bottles that usually signify high price and exquisite eco-consciousness. He doesn’t know where to put it. There is no table. The arms of the chair are too narrow. He looks left, he looks right, making a slightly exasperated expression that is instantly familiar to students of his vast, perhaps over-vast, oeuvre. Finally, he hits on a solution. Bending forward, he lodges the bottle between his black-loafered feet. The press conference can begin.

Those who have followed Toronto’s seemingly endless real estate boom are no longer surprised by the hype that greets every new “exclusive,” “unique,” “world-class” condo project that graces the city. Mr. De Niro’s Nobu takes things, as its backers might say, to a whole new level. A publicity brochure the size of a coffee table art book says that “Nobu represents the perfect balance between elegance and excitement, luxury and comfort, design and simplicity.” It promises a “distinctly laid-back sophistication” and “a lifestyle experience that has no parallel.” A photo shows Chef Nobu sprawled grinning and barefoot on the white sheets of a Nobu bed.

In person, the project’s backers are no less grandiloquent. The developers say that the words “one of a kind” are thrown around a lot but, “we truly mean it.” Nobu will be a “curated residence” that is “dedicated to sophisticated living.” Those lucky, or rich, enough to live there will be able to immerse themselves in the “sense and sensibility” of the Nobu lifestyle.

Interior designer Alessandro Munge of Studio Munge says he finds a kind of serenity here, a timelessness. There is a beautiful word to describe it, he says: “Authenticity.” The project will even have private entrances for exclusive guests. He leans on each word as he tells the media that Nobu is “something this city … just … has … not … seen.”

This is Nobu’s first residential project. Toronto is meant to feel very, very lucky to have it. It is a marker, says one of the developers, of Toronto’s emergence as a true global city. When a reporter asks if they aren’t worried about the real estate market, which is showing signs of squishiness that many fear could herald an end to its long giddy run, they say that this is a long-term investment and people will always want quality.

The Nobu complex on Mercer Street, just across from Metro Hall, will feature two towers. Along with the podium at the base, which will incorporate the façade of an old glass factory, they will form a U, for Nobu. A boutique hotel will sit on the upper floors.

Apart from the usual spin studio, yoga studio, hot tub and all, the fitness club will offer the “Nobu hydrotherapy circuit,” complete with hot and cold elements. The Nobu villas on the 10th floor are “exclusive retreats” where residents can entertain their guests. Uncle Al and Aunt Sue, don’t even think about it. The floor will boast a screening room, games lounge, barbecue deck and private dining with chef’s table.

Then, of course, there is the restaurant. Mr. De Niro discovered Chef Nobu in Los Angeles years ago and, “recognizing a kindred spirit,” says a publicity blurb, invited him to set up shop in New York. Now the chain has 35 restaurants around the world and is opening 15 hotels over five years.

Chef Nobu, wearing an immaculate white smock, says he likes people to leave his restaurants smiling. He smiles. Everyone in the room smiles.

Finally it is time for Mr. De Niro to speak. He doesn’t have much to add. He says he is very impressed with the presentation that “you guys have done. It’s really terrific. Great work.” He puts a friendly arm around Chef Nobu’s broad shoulders.

The chef and the actor will each have residences in the project. Why did he choose to buy a place in Toronto, another reporter asks Mr. De Niro. Well, actually, he replies, they gave it to me. But Toronto is “great city” with a great film festival. By now, the water bottle has fallen to the floor under his stool.