LONDON — 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, hes gone for subtlety and it works.
The views of London are so spectacular, theres 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 Armanis architect, Claudio Silvestrin. You enter through a darkened corridor with flickering lights. On one side of the floor is the lounge, with the bar to the left and a corner for musicians. Its 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 isnt 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.
The restaurant itself is quieter. You enter through the kitchen and then catch sight of St. Pauls 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). Its a miniature masterpiece, balanced between the sweetness of the fruit and the light acidity of the dressing.
The other star is a close relative: the Caesar salad. This version, which dates to Beckers time at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo, is the finest I have ever eaten. Its layered like a mille feuille and you can eat it with your hands.
Burrata, olives and datterini tomatoes come 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.
Of the two rotisserie options, the rosemary chicken with skordalia (garlic dip) is fine but unlikely to bring you running back. The duck with mango chutney is let down by the flaccid skin. I know this isnt a Chinese restaurant, but most of us have become used to that crispy texture. My favorite main is lamb chops with harissa and yogurt, which packs a punch.
I cant 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, thanks to Alessandro Marchesan, the sommelier and wine buyer. 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.
Some diners find Oblix underwhelming, and the 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 summers day and Im happy.
If Oblixs food is less exciting than the view, who cares? Its fresh, its reasonably priced, and it tastes good.