Mozzarella is arguably Italy’s most notable food export but unless you have the luxury of visiting the country, you won’t get to taste this lovely cheese at its best. That was until the arrival of Obika, a chic mozzarella bar, founded by Silvio Ursini, the first outpost opened in Rome in 2004 (you can read our interview with the restaurateur here:an-interview-with-italian-restaurateur-silvio-ursini). Influenced by his time in Tokyo, his mozzarella bars are sleek, clean and fresh which Ursini believes helps highlight the natural beauty of the products. Ursini’s second London outpost opened in July this year, following his first British venture in Canary Wharf in December 2011.
I visited the bar one rainy evening to check out what it had to offer. It’s a beautiful venue. Sleek doesn’t really do it justice; the polished black interiors positively sparkle while light floods through the floor-to-ceiling arched windows. Then again, coming from a man who worked for Bulgari for many years, it’s no surprise that the interiors are exquisite. Still, I thought it may feel a little bit cold, but instead I found it inviting and actually quite cosy, entirely theantithesisof what I had anticipated. As provenance is key – Ursini has fresh mozzarella flown over to his restaurants in London three times a week – there’s little surprise to find a giant map of Italy on the wall in the restaurant’s conservatory area highlighting what comes from where. There’s also some rather novel artwork featuring a bull from the mozzarella farm that Ursini sources his cheese but that has to be seen to be believed so I’ll refrain from elaborating further.
We started with a sgroppino – a cocktail hailing from the Veneto region and created using Prosecco and lemon sorbet with a shot of chilled vodka – it was light, refreshing and proved potent. After a couple of glasses of sgroppino I was certain I had found my new favourite cocktail and so far nothing has managed to topple it from prime position.
The menu was vast and began with a shot of chilled tomato soup and a tartare of sea bass with truffle. The soup was gorgeous. I’ve only once enjoyed a more delicious tomato soup and that was a warm amuse bouche with an abundance of black truffle at The Miller of Mansfield in Goring-on-Thames in December 2011. The choice of sea bass and truffle I thought was an interesting combination but it seemed complementary despite my initial reservations.
Later came a tasting platter of mozzarella including classic, smoked (bufala affumicata, as pictured below) and burrata. To accompany the cheese there was a selection of Prosciutto, grilled artichokes and a Sicilian aubergine casserole. I came for the mozzarella and was not disappointed. The burrata was creamy and slathered on lots of hot, fresh bread, was a delight. I’d never tried smoked mozzarella. Some cheeses really lend itself to smoking, others are smoked for no good reason other than someone thinking it’s a good idea, even if it isn’t. I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s taste – in fact, someone on my own table was not a huge fan – but I enjoyed the smoked mozzarella. However, thepié¤¥ derê´©stance of that round had to be the straightforward mozzarella. The meats and aubergine casserole were beautiful – I made a particular note of the latter – but the mozzarella was exceptional. Of course, I should have expected nothing less.
Next came pasta with mint, pecorino and egg. I have to say, the flavour combinations of that particular dish were not to my liking one bit. I’m of the opinion that mint and pecorino are not ideal companions and I wasn’t convinced by that one dish. Thankfully, that was quickly forgotten when a pizza with grilled aubergines, courgettes, radicchio, smoked mozzarella and parsley arrived, alongside anexquisitely grilled Devon rose beef fillet steak. Aside from the mozzarella the simplicity and outstanding flavour of the beef was probably the highlight of the night. Ursini is keen to stress that the restaurants use no garlic or onion and it’s interesting to taste the food void of flavours to which we have become so accustomed. However, as the Italian restaurateur suggests, garlic and onion do often mask the excellent natural assets of a product. I’m not going to banish garlic or onions from my kitchen any time soon but I do agree that we have become too attached to them and need to experiment with less, or alternative flavour,s to enhance our own culinary creations.
Following the copious quantities of sgroppino, we also enjoyed a beautiful crisp and golden white wine – Falanghina Rami DOC Le Vigne – and a rich, ripe, fruity Taurasi DOCG Feudi San Gregorio.
To finish we were served not one but two desserts: a chocolate and almond cake; and a ricotta cream with honey, orange peel and pine nuts. Both were fabulous but it was a struggle to finish either following the feast we’d consumed up to that point.
Obika 96 Draycott Avenue, London SW3 3AD
Tel: 020 7581 5208