The guys behind Zuma and Roka bring their brand of fashionable, destination dining to the Shard, this time trading in the fancy Japanese plates for a slice of the Big Apple.
32 floors up is a pretty good starting point for any restaurant. And whilst those hysterical defenders of the capital’s integrity might despair at the foreign investment in Renzo Piano’s creation (their understanding of the London landscape is perhaps a little blurry - modern life is rubbish, maybe?), the Shard is certainly an impressive piece of design.
And Oblix uses its lofty location well, with expansive views that look very cool by day and downright delightful when city lights roll and stab through the darkness. The (intended) delay in actually seeing the view comes from having to walk through a very busy kitchen to get to your table, which kind of works: it’s good to see the mechanics of it all but it doesn’t feel quite right - like seeing props being put into place before the curtain opens. Still, it’s a cracking dining room that doesn’t rely on the vista thanks to Claudio Silvestrin’s restrained but typically chic design.
With Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney’s other London restaurants, Zuma and Roka, remaining so beloved by the trendy, moneyed lot, Oblix will no doubt be able to piggyback on that popularity for a little while. And whilst there is a certain aura of exclusivity, it does feel a little more accessible to the general punter, perhaps thanks to (slightly) less haughty pricing and the fact that the location in itself will attract celebration diners rather than simply those looking to be seen.
There is a bit of professional detachment from some of the staff but most are just downright pleasant – not least the group's very charming head sommelier, Alessandro Marchesan, who looks a bit like Hugh Laurie (House, not George) and will probably go down a storm with slightly squiffy ladies lunching. Oh, a quick note to chaps looking to woo: if this place doesn’t work just give up, sorry.
Moving from the fancy Japanese plates that have worked so well before to more international options with a US bent seems suited to somewhere that obviously has New York in mind. And while it feels like a pretty masculine menu (there’s a lot of steak and the rotisserie plays a big part) the food is lighter than you might think. Some lovely seared beef (£12) is a delicate little starter with a gentle lime, chilli, garlic and ginger dressing, and the lobster and scallop ceviche (£19.50) might be less refined than some in London (Lima, for example) but the quality is still high. There’s a generous amount of seafood, and the jalapeno, coriander and sweet pepper just about make themselves heard above a lot of lime.
The rotisserie is something of a selling point, and the little birdies slowly spinning in their naked, dripping glory do look pretty appealing. The duck (£23) is superb, with perfectly cooked meat, less fat than you might imagine and some very good, slightly charred skin. The mango chutney isn’t the most nuanced, but it tastes pretty good and works every bit as well it should. A big slab of halibut (£28) is flaky, creamy perfection. Caper berries add a bit of salty bite but the Meyer lemon jam might be a little too much like curd for some tastes. Capers also make an astutely-judged appearance in a delicious roasted cauliflower side (£7), with roasted almonds offering nutty depth, while sweet carrots (£4) are cooked with orange and ginger, and are very good.
Desserts are delicious. A strawberry and rhubarb pavlova (£8) is brilliantly light and refreshing, with a perfect meringue and enough fresh fruit to evoke a British summertime that doesn't really exist outside of the Darling Buds of May. A yoghurt cake (£8) is similarly impressive (and light) with notes of peach and lemongrass and some very good buttermilk ice cream (also available on its own).
Dishes are designed to share, and seem well suited for that very purpose, so though prices are a little steep there’s no need to order three hefty courses per person. If you do want to have a bit of a spend up (and you get the impression a fair few will) you obviously can, though the very fast lift (ears will pop) might wreak havoc on tummies too full.
As with the food, if you want to spend a small fortune you can – there are some superb wines here, sweeping steadily up to a 1993 Le Montrachet Burgundy at £3650. However, bottles start at a reasonable enough £24 (and you can even get a very good Tim Adams Fairfield Black Semillon for £28) and there are plenty in the twenties and the thirties. A few are advertised by the glass (a 2011 Condrieu Invitare Viognier from Domaine Chapoutier at £20 is exceptional, and a Billecart Salmon Rosé NV very good at £15.50) but apparently they’ll open any bottle for you, which is nice of them. One particular highlight on a pretty extensive global list is the Tuscan 2003 Vin Santo from Castello d’Albola (£85 per bottle), an exquisite dessert wine with bags of fruit and walnut – a great way to finish.
The Last Word
This lofty spot might show that Waney and Becker still have one eye on the cool crowd but this is destination dining as it should be done. Good food, a great atmosphere and views head and shoulders above most.