Rainer Becker is hunched over a banquette in Oblix, his new bar and grill on the 32nd floor of the Shard, offering views across London.
He’s scrubbing furiously at a stain on the soft leather.
“Why did I agree to this light color?” he asks. “They said it would be easy to clean. I knew it wouldn’t. I’m probably going to have to change it.”
It’s four days before today’s opening and Becker, 52, is showing the obsession with detail that has helped the former chef to become such a successful restaurateur.
He created Zuma in London in 2002 with his business partner Arjun Waney. The restaurant now also has outlets in Hong Kong, Istanbul, Dubai, Miami and Bangkok. In 2004, he opened Roka, which has two venues in London and one in Hong Kong.
Zuma and Roka both serve Japanese-inspired modern cuisine. This time, the inspiration comes from the grills of New York, the city where Zuma is scheduled to open next year.
Becker says it has cost between 4 million pounds ($6.2 million) and 6 million pounds to fit out Oblix, designed by Claudio Silvestrin, the architect for Armani stores and for L’Anima and Princi restaurants in London.
The staff uniforms are by the British fashion house Ted Baker. The food is by German-born Becker who worked in Cologne, Sydney, Tokyo and London before opening Zuma.
“Approximately 3-1/2 years ago, I was approached to put a Zuma here,” Becker says in an interview in Oblix on May 3. “I was busy opening Zuma Miami at the time and I didn’t want to have another Zuma in London. Zuma is a special restaurant for me and my business partner and I want to keep it that way.
“So I said thank you, but no thank you. Then, around four months later, they came back to me with a book about the Shard and I fell in love with the design, the architecture. I thought: If I don’t do something here, I’ll always regret it because the Shard dominates -- in a positive way -- the London skyline and whenever I saw it, I’d say to myself, ‘You should have.’”
Becker estimates people will spend between 60 and 80 pounds per person on a meal in the restaurant, where the wine list is surprisingly forgiving. The house wine starts at about 5.50 pounds a glass and the Champagne is Bollinger at 58 pounds. There are about 20 wines on the list at less than 35 pounds.
The menu is accessible, with dishes such as Caesar salad, grilled scallops, and roast duck and chicken from the rotisserie. It’s a fair bet in London that steaks will be particularly popular.
This is a crowded market, with Goodman, Hawksmoor, CUT and 34 all among high-end restaurants competing to serve quality meat (and fish) to affluent diners.
Oblix (under executive chef Fabien Beaufour, formerly of Eleven Madison Park) has two main things going for it.
First, Becker has a strong track record in London, with Zuma and Roka both attracting fans after about a decade in business. Second, the location and design of Oblix, which also has a 110-seat lounge with live music, which will be open until 2. The views are spectacular.
The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It stands at 309.6 meters (1,016 feet) on London’s South Bank and is owned by LBQ Ltd., which brings together the State of Qatar (the majority shareholder) and Sellar Property Group Ltd., with non-equity funding by Qatar National Bank.
The competition is closer than you might think. Aqua Restaurant Group of Hong Kong plans to open Aqua Shard, one floor below, in July. This 220-guest establishment will serve contemporary British cuisine. On the 33rd floor, Aqua next month intends to open Hutong, serving dishes from northern China.
The U.K.’s first Shangri-La Hotel, opening later this year will have three food-and-drink outlets: a deli on the ground floor, a restaurant and lounge on level 35 and a bar on 52.
Oblix is first out of the gate.
Oblix, 31 Saint Thomas Street, The Shard, London, SE1 9RY.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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