Review of Obika, South Kensington on 12 July 2012
We’ve just had the wettest June on record in the UK and (until this week) July looked like it would follow suit. Rather predictably it was raining on the evening we ventured to Obika’s latest offering in South Kensington in the hope of finding some quasi Italian sunshine.
We were cheered by a bright orange spritz upon our arrival, a mixture of prosecco and Aperol reminiscent in appearance to Lucozade (fortunately it tastes nothing like it and is far more pleasant to drink). Soon the tepid sodden world outside was a dim memory.
A basket of mixed Italian breads soon followed including foccacia with which we soaked up fruity olive oil. Although Obika’s cuisine is rooted in Italy, the ebony decor from the bar to the floor and faded mossy green rectangular platters we poured the oil onto lend the restaurant a distinctly oriental feel. It still manages to convey an intimate charm perhaps more commonly associated with stereo typical Italian trattorias but which I found lacking in their Canary Wharf branch I visited last December.
Obika has the informality of a cafe or bar where you can catch up with friends over a glass of wine while offering something a bit more special on the food front than your high street pizzeria. Our jovial waiter recommended we start with the grand tasting platter. This was an generous selection of hams with pestos (basil and sundried tomato), breads, a delightful sweet and sour caponata, olives and three types of mozzarella. This cheese lies at the heart of the Obika concept. There was a ball of smoked scamorza with a delicate wood fired, smokey flavour. There was also burrata a creamy mozzarella whose consistency lies somewhere between regular mozzarella and stringy cottage cheese with a slightly tangy flavour. Then there was a ball of buffalo mozzarella. There was a lot of mozzarella. While I’m more than happy to eat mozzarella I’m afraid the intricacies of why this cheese is so revered by Italians are a little lost on me. On the whole the platter was tasty and a convivial way to start our meal but I secretly wished we had chosen the Il Gran Tagliere platter which contained ham, salami and hard cheeses which are much more my sort of thing.
I had been tempted to have a seasonal pizza featuring courgette flowers, speck and (more) smoked mozzarella but after such a filling starter I opted for a lighter option of Straccetti di Manzo – succulent strips of beef cooked with sweet cherry tomatoes to counteract the slightly bitter black olives and served with stir fried courgettes. It was good and demonstrates the more refined side of Obika’s offering. One of my companions had the pumpkin and amaretti ravioli which secured a good balance between sweet and savoury filling in an al dente parcel. Our other friend chose a vegetarian pizza with grilled aubergine, courgette, raddichio and smoked mozzarella which was light and crisp. All of the dishes looked appetising with much more effort having been made in their appearance compared to the lacklustre efforts I had experienced in their sister branch. We had a glass of Calabrian Cirò Rosso with our starter which was drinkable but a bit light for my tastes. Our waiter recommended a glass of Primitivo Gioia del Colle from Puglia to go with my main. This was deeper with spicy smoky undertones and much more agreeable.
I was really too full for a dessert but our waiter persuaded me to try Millefoglie Sbriciolato con Fragole. This was a bowl of primrose custard lightly flavoured with lemon and garnished with three strawberries and crumbled flaky pastry. Not unpleasant but really nothing special. It was good to see a selection of smaller piccolo desserts on the menu and one friend opted for the piccolo version of the Ricotta di Bufala Cream with honey, orange peel and pine nuts on my recommendation. Sadly, dessert (although I have not sampled them all), appears to be the missing link in this restaurant’s offering. In all other respects the food, service and ambience are very good but the desserts I have tried to date have lacked the same oomph. On whole it was a good, spirit lifting meal and even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits when we left.