db Eats: Oblix8th October, 2013 by Lucy Shaw
Vertigo sufferers should steer clear of Oblix. Housed on the 32nd floor of Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, the only way to access Rainer Becker’s restaurant, which opened in May, is via a lift that sends you zooming into orbit at warp speed, leaving you giddy on entry.
Once inside, the view envelops you like fresh sheets. Thrusting up beside London Bridge station, from 32 floors up, the train tracks spew out at all angles like arteries surging through the city, Tower Bridge is reduced to a papier-mâché miniature and St Paul’s Cathedral is no larger than a thimble.
Three years ago, Becker received an offer he couldn’t refuse. The German-born chef, best known for creating Zuma with business partner Arjun Waney, was approached by The Shard’s owners and asked if he’d like to open a Zuma in the building. Loath to launch a second Zuma in London, Becker knew that he’d live to regret it if he didn’t bite at the dangling carrot and so struck up a deal to open a new venture instead.
Rather than a hat tip to its narrow shape, Becker chose the name Oblix in honour of his love of the Asterix books, where there would always be a feast at the end. The 52-year-old’s signature obsessive attention to detail is evident at the site.
Enlisting the expertise of Ted Baker to design the staff uniforms and Claudio Silverstrin – who previously added flair to fine dining Italian restaurant L’Anima in the City and Princi in Soho – to look after the interiors, Becker astutely opted for a neutral palette, meaning Oblix’s discreet interiors complement rather than overpower the view.
Steered by Grenoble-born head chef Fabien Beaufour, formerly of The French Laundry in Napa and Eleven Madison Park in New York, Oblix is split into two sides: a 100-seater restaurant and a 100-cover lounge bar boasting spectacular views across the capital, a grand piano and a 2am licence, where drinks are chilled with chunks of ice hand-chiselled from large, purified blocks.
Beginning my visit with an apéritif at the bar, I had a front row seat to the action and slightly feared for my life as the petite blonde bartender savagely hacked into a block as if imagining it were he ex-boyfriend’s head, sending icy shards flying in all directions.
The brainchild of Zuma’s group bar manager, James Shearer, cocktails are classic with a distinct New York twist. With the focus firmly on fun, signature sip the Betsy Theory, made with Bulleit Bourbon, tobacco liqueur, cacao liqueur, mint and peach bitters, is served in a silver goblet adorned with bees.
The drink used to be finished with a blood red feather (or cock’s tail) in honour of American tavern owner Betsy Flanagan, credited by many as being the founder of the modern cocktail, though the flamboyant practice has stopped as too many of the tail feathers were swiped from the goblets for personal use.
Now naked, the cocktail is no less a work of art, the tobacco and cacao liqueurs delicately handled so as to enhance rather than dominate the Bourbon base.
Across the hall in the main restaurant, Beaufour has given the American grill theme a twist with the incorporation of British and European ingredients – cheeses come from nearby Borough Market and the majority of ingredients are sourced from within the UK.
The wine offering meanwhile is headed up by Italian-born sommelier Alessandro Marchesan, group wine buyer for Roka and Zuma, who refers to Oblix’s 350-bin cellar as his “dream” collection, sourced from no less than 46 suppliers.
Given the majesty of the venue – The Shard pierces the London skyline with its 310m height – Becker could have been forgiven for charging sky-high prices, but, refreshingly, both the food and the wine are fairly priced, with wines starting from £5.50 a glass and £26 a bottle, with over 20 coming in at under £35 a bottle.
Kitted out with a spit roast for slow cooking joints, a charcoal grill, and a wood-fired oven for breads and pizza, Oblix’s pared-down menu is formed of a series of small dishes designed to be shared.
Sitting down to dinner with my yummy mummy, we were promised a bird’s eye view of St Paul’s. The early evening light was so bright the shutters had been temporarily pulled down so as not to blind diners. But it was a view worth waiting for, particularly as the sun began to sink, suffusing the skyline with sherbet orange and pastel pink.
We began with dangerously addictive homemade olive bread and salted butter, which, having observed us devour half a loaf in one sitting, our waiter took it upon himself to relieve us of the remainder. Perhaps he thought we wouldn’t manage our mains if we continued chomping?
The disappointment at the bread theft was short lived, assuaged by the arrival of our starters – beef tataki with lime, chili, ginger and garlic; and scallop carpaccio with lime, chili and jalapeños.
Both were exemplary and proved the highlight of the meal, the beef cut into razor-thin slivers and dressed in a glossy coat of sesame, with a pleasing kick of heat from the ginger and chili that remained subtle enough to let the delicate flavour of the beef shine through the fire.
The scallop carpaccio meanwhile was lip-smackingly fresh and achingly on trend, enlivened by the fiery jalapeños and invigorating lime.
While failing to reach the heights of the starters, my main event: glazed duck with mango chutney, tasted exquisite. Charred from the grill, its glistening flesh was smoky and succulent, and the mango paired surprisingly well given it threatened to tip the dish into a Willy Wonka-like realm of jaw-breaking sweetness. Triple cooked chips meanwhile passed the crunchy exterior, fluffy interior test and were given a welcome tang by vinegar-laced mayo.
Speaking of Wonka, desserts at Oblix are childlike in their simplicity and reliance on heavy hitting flavours like caramel and chocolate. But this is no bad thing. My pecan chocolate bar was delightful. Shaped like the minute hand on a grandfather clock, its crunchy top was dotted with caramelised nuts a squirrel would sell its granny for.
The only duff note was the ball of Bourbon ice cream, which promised so much, but was devoid of the boozy kick I craved. Where’s the Woodford Reserve when you need it?
Saying that, our charming Southern French sommelier, Nicolas Vielleville, was incredibly generous with the wine, plying my mum and I with glass upon glass of liquid treats, from a mouthwateringly mineral Fred Loimer Kamptal Riesling 2010 served from a magnum, to a charming, hazelnut and toffee-filled Graham’s 10-year-old Tawny Port, which proved an inspired pairing for the pecan pud.
While some may wonder why Becker hasn’t been bolder with his menu or more gung-ho with his ingredients, I rather like the laid back nature of Oblix. While very much a special occasion restaurant, there’s an insouciance to Oblix that makes it a great place to genuinely catch up with someone.
There’s no hushed reverence and over-analysing of ingredients here. You’re not made to think or work too hard, but instead encouraged to drink in the view and the delicious wines by the glass, nibble on some fine food and fall in love with London all over again.
Oblix at The Shard, Level 32, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY; Tel: +44 (0)20 7268 6700