Rainer Becker, the founder of Zuma and Roka, might have gone for fireworks with his food when he decided to open a restaurant on Level 32 of the Shard.
Instead, he’s gone for subtlety -- and it works.
The views of London are so spectacular, there’s no point competing. Becker offers a menu that is simple and appealing -- with salads and grills -- yet not unambitious. The attention to detail in the plates lifts them out of the everyday.
Oblix is striking. The look has been created by Giorgio Armani’s architect, Claudio Silvestrin. If you’ve eaten in Princi or L’Anima you may recognize the clean lines. Only here, you enter through a darkened corridor with flickering lights. You’re escorted by hostesses dressed in Ted Baker.
On one side of the floor is the lounge, with the bar to the left and a corner for musicians. It really is an attractive space, with big tables and couches facing windows showing the Thames river and the railway tracks hundreds of feet below.
The only downside here is the noise, amplified by piped music when the band isn’t playing. This is a place for young people used to hanging out in clubs, talking and laughing loudly. The cocktails are excellent, but make things worse as the drinkers become increasingly animated and talk Oblix.
The restaurant itself is quieter. You enter through the kitchen and then catch sight of St. Paul’s and the magnificent view. The weakness of the menu is that it starts out strong and individual and then settles into more generic territory for the mains and desserts. I recommend making a meal out of starters.
The best dish is an unlikely one: iceberg, blue cheese and pancetta, at 9 pounds ($13.42). It’s a miniature masterpiece, balanced between the sweetness of cranberries and the light acidity of the dressing. Becker must love it -- the ingredients can’t cost much. I shall never fail to order it.
The other star is a close relative: the Cesar salad. This version of the dish, which dates back to Becker’s time at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, is the finest I have ever eaten. It’s layered like a mille feuille and you can eat it with your hands.
Burrata, olives and datterini tomatoes comes with Sicilian basil; seared beef with lime, chili, garlic and ginger dressing. The sliced yellow tail is served with toasted coriander seeds and citrus soy. I could eat all of this right now.
Of the two rotisserie options, the rosemary chicken with skordalia (garlic dip) is fine but is unlikely to bring you running back. The duck with mango chutney is let down by the flaccid skin. I know this isn’t a Chinese restaurant but most of us have become used to that crispy texture. My favorite main is lamb chops with harissa & yogurt, which packs a punch.
I can’t get excited about the desserts, though if you want cheesecake or chocolate brownie sundae, this might be the place for you. The wine list is more exciting.
Anywhere that serves Bollinger Special Cuvee at 56 pounds as the house Champagne gets my vote. There are lots of other interesting and inexpensive wines to try, including a good showing for Rieslings and for U.S. wines. Some London restaurants are very greedy on wines. At Oblix, there is a spirit of generosity and of adventure that is admirable.
(Thanks to Alessandro Marchesan, the group sommelier and wine buyer.)
Some diners find Oblix underwhelming and consider the unchallenging menu dull. Give me a glass of Bollinger (12.50 pounds), a beautiful salad, maybe some ceviche, and steak tartare with beef tomato and grilled sourdough on a summer’s day and I’m happy.
If Oblix’s food is less exciting than the view, who cares? It’s fresh, it’s reasonably priced and it tastes good.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? About 40 pounds plus wine.
Sound level? Just about an acceptable 75-80 decibels in the restaurant; the bar may appeal to fans of the Who.
Inside tip? Take ear plugs.
Special feature? The view.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Perfect.
Oblix, 31 Saint Thomas Street, The Shard, London, SE1 9RY. Information +44-20-7268-6700, http://oblixrestaurant.com/en/home
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(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.)
Muse highlights include Hephzibah Anderson on books, John Mariani on wine, Martin Gayford on art and Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater.