Italian restaurants: you know the drill, don’t you? So overly familiar is the Italian menu team-sheet, and so mediocre are most examples, that it no longer feels exciting. What more is there to get from pasta, panini and pizza?
Obikà delivers on the delicious promise of Italian food, somehow without using either onion or garlic in their dishes, resisting easy categorisation and modelling itself on Japanese sushi bars.
Described as a mozzarella bar – try mentioning that without accidentally subscribing to The Sunday Times – Obikà is a very good restaurant: a lively atmosphere, a diverse and engaging menu, and a team of waiting staff who truly know the food they serve.
Despite the manicured sleekness (it looks a bit like some kind of hair salon for ironic multi-millionaires of the distant future, all polished and black) Obikà is less about the fraudulent flourish of cheffy showmanship than it is about the individual ingredients.
The mozzarella di buffala campana is impossibly moist and creamy, which Obiká imports to London the same day it is produced, and so tender that you can slice it as if it were a Sunday roast joint. It’s the undoubted star of the show; the recurrent grace note in each dish. Such a pleasingly soft texture deserves to be enjoyed on its own, but Obikà tests this resolve by serving its mozzarella starter platters with an array of cured meats, plum tomatoes and olives. All of it is fresh and delicious.
There’s also a shot-glass filled with Stracciatella di Burrata, taken from the very centre of the mozzarella; viscous and pure white. It tastes so smooth that it somehow feels wrong to eat this strange, stringy cream; an implausibly steep upgrade on milk and cheese. The mozzarella bar itself is downstairs, where various examples of the exemplary cheese are displayed in sight. You can sit at the bar, pretend that you’re in a pub and drink Stracciatella di Burrata as if it were London Pride. I’m genuinely considering this as a post-work drinks do.
Main courses are composed with as much attention to detail as the antipasti. A viscous, sophisticated porcini and truffle risotto is al dente and satisfying. Lasagne – made with mozzarella di buffala campana, of course – is a robust fortress packed with lean beef mince. The pizza was a masterfully tasty tutorial in how to get it right, mainly because the base was so remarkably light and soft. It doesn’t sit in your stomach, curled into an indigestible lump. Nor do you have to spend painstakingly protracted moments chewing it over and over, feeling betrayed as you stare at the remaining slices. It’s made from Petra flour, which is left to rise and collapse over 48 hours, developing a subtle and tender texture. Lashings of Obikà’s mozzarella, artichoke hearts and prosciutto decorate the delicate canvas of the dough and do it considerable justice.
Dessert is a symphony of traditional Italian favourites and graceful adaptations of modern marvels. It’s all so skilful, so innately and naturally pleasant, that it seems to disdain the idea that this sort of food could be anything else. Obikà outclasses the vast majority of Italian restaurants that I have visited in London, and is more competitively priced. It is Italian food, but not as you know it.
Obikà Mozzarella Bar
11-13 Charlotte Street
Tel: 020 7637 7153