26 Oct 2008

Whiter than White: 'Óbiká' The Sequel

'Futility: playing a harp before a buffalo...'
[Burmese Proverb]
GASTRONOMIC GENTRIFICATION works in mysterious ways. You can bet your postcode is piling on pounds when, adjacent to the artisan cheesemonger, olive oil only shops, stalls specialising in gut wrenching wheat grass shots and literally nutty emporiums become your neighbours. Beside these laudably expensive super-indies, Asda has become an acidic memory you are proud to have outgrown, and Waitrose, exasperatingly, a corporate pariah…
To an Italian (and I am half) the idea of a Mozzarella Bar, launched like the sushi version, is natural, whether it materialises in New York, Tokyo, Kuwait or Turin. My English aspect wonders whether it might be easier to raise a herd of buffalo at home rather than thrice-weekly fly, from Campania to our capital, immaculately fresh globes natant in brine. Indeed, Nick Griffin, ‘Buffalo Man’ from Leighton Buzzard (rather than the B.N.P.) proved this could be done. I suspect the Italians, with their proud, protective D.O.P.’s would smirk at our brief history of water bovine husbandry, however.
The spicily accented 'Óbiká' (‘here it is’) does white goods impeccably. Located within a decadent, appropriately pale space inside the rehabilitated Grand Hotel at Trafalgar, it is the latest in a short line of Mozzarella Bars to land in London.
I lured my piquant, hollow-legged companion with the promise of all you can eat curds and whey (and a martini of mirth).
The idea is to choose an expression of the cheese and combine it with charcuterie, antipasti and topiary of up to eight types of leaves. Whilst the concept is clear, the menu is surprisingly substantial, and so I asked our North Italian waiter to choose for us.
After moist, spicy Salami from Calabria, spread over crostoni, a degustazione of firm, salty-sweet Prosciutto from San Daniele (Parma’s rival), buttery Mortadella di Prato, mild Cinta Senese and almost purple, tender, paper thin Bresaola arrived with what looked like a whole loaf from PAUL. Sufficient provocation to awaken carnivorous tendencies.
A bottle of sprightly Tuscan Vermentino – a food friendly grape with a catwalk future - cleansed with its crisp, green, fennel notes and wandering acidity. (Antinori, Guado al Tasso ’07)
Four expressions of Mozzarella dozed on a lawn of leaves and pert cherry tomatoes. Paestum conformed to my idea of Mozzarella, whereas rare scoopable Stracciatella (‘torn apart’) di Burrata, topped with a sprig of mint, looked like whipped ice cream, with a supple, sweeter, somehow fragile texture in the mouth. Pontina was firm and more powerful. Ricotta (‘recooked’) was juicy, with a clotted texture, gilded with parsley. The aggressively smoked, yellow skinned ball of ‘Affumicata’, which I was implored to try, was, as I suspected, too acrid for my taste, however.
For pudding, we shared the Degustazione di Dolci, where the dairy theme continued. The traffic light consisted of Crema di Ricotta topped with pine nuts, flourless, almond scented, chocolate Torta Caprese dusted with icing sugar, and a little glass vase of Tiramisu. I managed to balance most of the latter on a single spoon-load. Flamboyant - indeed most likely flammable - shots of Limoncello followed, arming us for our mission to recruit new diners to the mozzarella cause.
Be under no illusions, Óbiká delivers what it promises. Providing you are a fanatic of Italy’s most famous cheese, or simply curious, enter and launch yourself into the enlightening experience. If, however, you are in the mood for Bismarck Herring, Shrimp de Jonghe or Poached eggs à la Kapisztrán, then I suggest you make alternative arrangements...
'Óbiká' - Northumberland Avenue. WC2N 5BY. T. 020 3002 7400
Nearest Station: Charing Cross
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My latest wine column from the Southwark News is available HERE.