More mozzarella than you can shake a buffalo at
As all of us know Canary Wharf is an overly corporatised glass and steel hell-hole with no where to eat besides godforsaken chain restaurants. There might be an exception to this rule though in the form of Obika, a restaurant that specialises in mozzarella. Inescapably however, this new cheese hole is a branch of an international chain. One really can’t have it all.
Formerly located in the Selfridges food hall, Obika is now oddly situated in what looks like a glass enclosed courtyard between two office buildings. Surrounded by glass on all sides, the space certainly looks interesting, but whether it will remain comfortable in the sweltering humidity of a London summer remains to be seen.
Mozzarella comes in three types at Obika – pick the one you want and then choose a companion dish to go with it. Naturally, I’m never satisfied with what I’m given and wanted to have all three in one go and thankfully the staff were more than happy to accommodate my ravenous desires.
The classic ball-shaped buffalo mozzarella is beautifully taut, creamy and slightly sweet too. The less common burrata mozzarella is served in a bowl and has a solid exterior, but liquid interior. Both are intensely creamy, but the milky interior of the burrata is also very cold which is quite a contrast and won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
The same might also be said about the smoked buffalo mozzarella. The smokiness is subtle at first bite, but becomes noticeably more intense the more you eat. It’s not overpowering though and emphasises the creaminess of the cheese as a whole, although it’s slightly less taut than the classic buffalo mozzarella and a little denser too. Surprisingly likeable.
Since I was indulging in all three mozzarellas, my chosen companion dish of artichokes was something of a third wheel (or is that a fourth wheel?) but they were quite good in their own right. Firm outer leaves give way to more tender inner leaves and there’s a nice fruity flavour thanks to the olive oil dressing. There are plenty of black olives, sweet plum tomatoes and baby spinach to go with it, although these extra vegetables do have a rag bag feel to them as there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to their inclusion.
Surprisingly, I still had room for dessert and naturally the one that immediately caught my eye was the cheese-based one – ricotta cheese made from buffalo milk and topped with honey, orange peel and pine nuts. The ricotta was intensely creamy with a texture that somehow managed to be both dense and airy at the same time. It was complimented well by the syrupy sweet honey, crunchy pine nuts and zesty orange peel. A touch more honey and orange peel was needed to better counterbalance the creaminess of the cheese though. Still, a surprisingly satisfying, if decadent dessert.
Obika’s ‘raw’ mozzarella dishes are clearly very satisfying, but the rest of the menu also contains numerous other dishes which incorporate our favourite Italian cheese in various ways such as salads and pizzas. I went back to Obika a few days later to sample a couple of them. I started off my second visit with a dish that sounds far more interesting than it actually is – mashed potato with prosciutto and smoked mozzarella. A few pieces of prosciutto and smoked mozzarella are scattered and mixed into a small dish of mashed potato which is then baked. The golden brown crust vaguely resembles macaroni and cheese more than anything else and tastes similarly bland. Although fluffy, it’s not very tasty with the prosciutto and smoked mozzarella making only fleeting appearances.
More interesting was the pizza topped with grilled aubergines, zucchini, radicchio, chopped parsley and smoked mozzarella. It’s a well chosen selection of vegetables as the creamy aubergine and zucchini are complimented well by the sweetness of the tomatoes, the bitter raddicchio and the smoky mozzarella. The mozzarella is thankfully used relatively sparsely since its cumulatively strong, bold flavour would be otherwise overpowering. The weak link, however, is the irregularly shaped base. Although sweet and sour with a coarse texture, it’s a bit too tough and chewy for my liking.
If you can’t decide what to have for dessert, the dessert selection lets you sample three of Obika’s more interesting puddings in miniature form. The ricotta is as good as ever, but oddly it’s harder to appreciate in such a small portion. At the risk of sounding excessively poncey, it’s a dish that needs room to breathe if you’re going to appreciate its creamy texture to its fullest.
Sadly, the chocolate and almond cake is utterly unremarkable. More flavoursome is the tiramisu which has an eggy, creamy and sweet top layer which contrasts well with the bottom layer which almost resembles a mince pie in its boozy fruitiness.
Service was clearly a work in progress – service was sometimes quite slow at times during both my meals and some staff members had a rather tenuous grasp on the English language.
Judging from my two visits to Obika, the less complicated dishes that rely purely on showcasing the quality of the raw cheese rather than incorporating the cheese into a wider dish are the more successful ones worthy of eating. While Obika is still worth visiting if you’re as big a cheese fiend as I am, it means others less fond of mozzarella will find little else to hold their attention. It also raises questions about Obika’s long term staying power if its menu, or its kitchen, doesn’t change with the times. For now Obika gets a cautious four stars, but I’ll have to revisit the place a year from now – if only to see if it’s still there.
Address: West Wintergarden, 35 Bank Street, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5NW
Phone: 020 3239 8010
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday 10.00-22.00, Saturday 09.00-22.00 and Sunday 09.00-18.00.
Reservations: yeah, if you want.
Total cost for one person including soft drinks and service charge: £30-36 approx.