Oblix, Level 32, The Shard, London
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Saturday 01 June 2013
"So, I go to London Bridge Station," I said to the Oblix phone lady. "Then what?"
"You're kidding aren't you?" she replied. "You look up in the air…"
"I'm not asking the location of the Shard," I said coldly. "I want to know how to get into your restaurant without paying the building's £25 entrance fee."
"No problem," she said, "You just go down the escalator, to find the lift."
It's all ups and downs, getting to Oblix. You stand gawping up at what seems like several thousand miles of shiny steel (about as welcoming as a medieval fortress) before heading for the entrance. Three doormen murmurously discover your intentions, and whisperingly suggest you take the escalator, then ask (discreetly) at the bottom.Downstairs, you find three more laconic bouncers who (hesitantly) direct you to the third of three doors. Yet another doorman inscrutably directs you to the lift, which whizzes you up 32 floors at warp-factor 19…
Suddenly everything's different. Gone is the blank, sheeny unapproachability of the exterior. You're in what feels like an Aztec pyramid, with earth-coloured slabs and flickering candles. A handmaid in an hourglass frock guides you through the gloom, into the blinding radiance of the Oblix restaurant.
It's some trick to pull off, steering the luncher from darkness into dazzle. The drama continues as you approach the windows, walking past meat cabinets, displays of fruit and vegetables. The view from the 32nd floor is terrific (what's that cruise liner doing beside HMS Belfast?) but the room is lovely, the décor light and airy. We were seated in a booth yards from the windows, but ceased to care after a minute.
Oblix is the latest venture from Rainer Becker, the German wunderkind who cut his teeth as executive chef at the Hyatt chain, before starting Zuma in Knightsbridge and Roka in Charlotte Street with his Indian business partner Arjun Waney. Both restaurants offered top-level Japanese cooking, and spawned siblings from Hong Kong to Miami. So it was surprising to find the Oblix menu almost wilfully mainstream Occidental.
Starters offer little that you haven't tried before (burrata, steak tartare, aubergine caviar) but offer unusual treatment – like lobster and scallop ceviche with jalapeno, coriander and sweet pepper. And the mains – well, you can choose your cooking method from the rotisserie, the grill and the josper oven. Becker has declared he was inspired by a classic New York grill and that's what you get here, presided over by Fabien Beaufour of Eleven Madison Park: classily handled comfort food.
Angie's sliced yellow tail tuna came with a sweetie-counter display of red and green peppers, onion, ginger and mustard seeds in a ponzu dressing. "Exquisite," she said, "and very Zuma." New England clam chowder was accompanied by a mini-loaf of olive sourdough, an inspired coupling. The soup's senses-flooding creaminess was flecked with spring onion and celery, the white crabmeat given a whisper of citric subtlety; the bread was very wolf-downable.
Into view came the appealing figure of Alessandro Marchesan, Becker's group wine honcho, a charming enthusiast who explained that all Oblix wines are available by the glass (even the really posh ones) and pointed out the restaurant's Wine-Buff Huddle Corner, where serious oenologists can gather around a stone slab and discuss vintages and viscosity. He found us a viognier from the Seresin vineyard in New Zealand, which was heavenly.
I couldn't resist a rib-eye steak from the fancy grill: it was handsome, glistening and toothsomely charred but came sliced up like a Tuscan tagliata. This, said Alessandro, was because "all dishes are designed to be shared," a déclassé idea in such an upscale establishment.
Angie's rotisseried rosemary chicken scented with skordalia – bread sauce with aioli – packed a double punch. Tenderstem broccoli with chilli lemon rind, and a terrific dish of cauliflower roasted with almonds and caper berries, both lifted the proceedings. We were eating steak, chicken, broccoli and cauliflower; it was amazing how interesting they made it.
We finished lunch with a classic New York cheesecake (very light-textured) and some yummy basil ice-cream, washed down with Torcolato liqueur.
There's no doubt Oblix will be a massive hit with diners – in here or in the adjoining live-music-and-cocktails bar – able to look down on London's dazzling Nighttown. At lunchtime, the view is the least remarkable thing about it.
Oblix, Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE21 (020-7268 6700). About £170 for two, with wine
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