Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Tom Parker Bowles and reader Pooja Vir compare notes on Oblix.
Tom Parker Bowles is a food writer and restaurant critic for the Mail on Sunday. His latest cookbook is Let’s Eat Meat.
Pooja Virfrom London eats out around four times a week, with her best eating out experience being The Sportsman in Whitstable, Kent, where her pick of the menu is the pork scratchings and the cream cheese ice cream.
London’s newest landmark, the Shard, is Western Europe’s tallest building, and Oblix, on the 32nd floor was the first restaurant to open (in between Aqua Shard on the 31st floor and Hutong on the 33rd floor). It’s the latest collaboration between Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney, the team behind London restaurants Zuma and Roka. Oblix is a pared-back NewYork-style grill with simple décor that allows the view to take centre stage. A wood-fired oven turns out breads and pizzas, while the rest of the menu is largely based around the Josper grill and rotisserie.
Step out of the lift, and you’re immediately confronted by a battalion of clipboard wielding, willowy ladies, which is usually enough to fill me with fear and loathing. Here, though, we’re effortlessly moved from lobby to table without so much as a raised eyebrow or curled lip. Service was brisk and smiling, and the sommelier impressive, actually down-selling the grog we had chosen. A rare thing indeed. *I was recognized, and Rainer Becker did come to talk for a while.
A model-like hostess led us down a very dark corridor into the restaurant and handed us over to a very grumpy waiter. We had booked a 2.30pm table and I imagine he was dying to end his shift. Surly as he was, he did know the menu and was able to answer all our questions about ingredients and preparations. We did however have to constantly ask for water, salt, even cutlery. We were helped by two sommeliers – both knew what we had ordered and recommended excellent matches with our food.
I love Rainer Becker’s food, and he knows how to put together the sort of menu you actually want to eat. Roka, when you can battle through the infernal front desk, is one of my favourite restaurants in London, and Zuma sure knows how to cut a piece of fish. Here, the menu ranges across the globe, taking little soupçons from Asia, America and Europe, while never straying far into unfamiliar territory. A brace of crab cakes are laughably small for but by Jove, are they good, coated in crisp panko breadcrumbs, overflowing with delicate white pieces of flesh. And with a decent bass note of brown meat, too. Burrata was suitably oozing and lactic, while tomatoes actually had a decent whack of taste. Duck was darkly seductive, with the sort of skin that would thrill in even the most exacting Beijing duck shrine, while the lamb chops were equal to those of Zuma. The lamb had a proper bleat of flavour, and a good chilli hit, too: the stand-out dish by a vertical mile. An Asian beef salad lacked punch, and chips were underwhelming. As was the New York cheesecake. But these were minor quibbles.The food was exactly what you’d expect from a Becker restaurant: not cheap, by any standard, or groundbreaking either, but as lunches with a view go, it’s up there with the best.
The menu was a car crash of dishes and waiters explained the concept differently, as both ‘food of the world’ and ‘eclectic, like the people of NewYork’. I’m glad neither of us are vegetarian because there isn’t a single veggie main dish on the menu. The most delicious part of the exorbitant burrata, olives and Datterini tomatoes was the sprinkling of pistachio granola and disappointingly not the burrata, which was decidedly un-creamy. Lobster and scallop ceviche, jalapeño and sweet peppers, was fresh but bland.We mistook the seared beef, lime, chilli, garlic and ginger dressing, for a warm starter. It arrived cold and drenched in so much tart dressing that we couldn’t really taste the beef. The glasses of wine – Loimer Kamptal riesling and Seresin sauvignon blanc – were delicious and well matched. Our mains were crackling pork belly, apple chutney and mustard seeds rosemary chicken with skordalia and French fries. My pork was tough, the chutney too tart, and the crackling so devoid of crackle or flavour that I could not finish the dish. My friend said his chicken was juicy but tasted of a watery HP sauce. As with the starters, the glass of Barboursville cabernet franc, was the best part of our main. I ordered a scoop of crunchy pecan bourbon ice cream, which was creamy, nutty, very sweet and I could not taste the bourbon. My friend’s NewYork cheesecake had a soggy base, and he said he had tasted better from my oven.
the bottom line
OK, so the view certainly seasons the food. But London by day, even from this height, is not the most pulchritudinous of cities. By night, I’m sure it looks rather prettier. Prices are often steeper than the Shard’s walls, but the quality is high. There are a few duff dishes but knowing Becker they’ll be put right soon. I’ll be back if I can ever get in again. If only for one more taste of those lamb chops.
FOOD 7/10; ATMOSPHERE 7/10; SERVICE 7/10; TOM’S TOTAL: 21/30
The only special thing about this restaurant is its view. A confused, over-priced menu, sterile interiors and uninterested service has guaranteed that I will never return to Oblix. If you decide to go, make sure you have a torch for when you visit the loo.
FOOD 5/10; ATMOSPHERE 5/10; SERVICE 4/10; POOJA’S TOTAL: 14/30
Oblix Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating:
Although it looks to source a lot of produce from the UK, Oblix is getting much of it from overseas, despite the extremely wide variety available here. The restaurant doesn’t have a sustainable seafood sourcing policy in place, which means that items such as scallops could have been dredged. This means that fishermen trawl the bottom of the sea, damaging the seabed ecosystem, in a way that hand-diving does not. Meat is predominately British and both the beef and lamb would have been raised to good standards of welfare. Oblix also sources free range pork, which ensures pigs have led a life with access to natural light and open spaces.
Written September 2013