Do you have a favourite cheese? I have several. I’m a big fan. I will always look to the cheeseboard when eating out and we habitually have an average of five different kinds in our fridge at any one time. I’m not quite sure where it ranks but burrata, a soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream, figures quite highly on the list and so it made perfect sense to check out the new flagship restaurant from Obica, an Italian mozzarella bar.
Recently opened in St Paul’s, they have four more across the city, 12 in Italy, four in the US and three in Tokyo. Born from an idea by the former creative director of Bulgari, Silvio Ursini, Obica is a laid back, light and airy set-up where the produce is flown in three times a week and served straight to the plate, in an attempt to show off the finest and freshest Italian produce without the frippery.
Simplicity is the order of the day here. The menu is reassuringly light with a choice of several kinds of mozzarella, antipasti and bruschetta, handmade pasta and handthrown pizza and the focus is all on the flavour. You won’t find garlic or onions in the kitchens here, as these are thought to detract from the main affair, which makes it a perfect place for all of you planning some post-dining smooching.
Being the mozzarella fiend that I am, it was only fair to sample a bit of almost everything from the menu. We kicked off with the smallest scoop of the creamiest cow’s milk burrata, served with flatbread and a vibrant green pesto (and nope, no garlic or onion!). Think of this as the amuse bouche, preparing your mouth for a veritable feast.
Next up came a plate of fresh buffalo mozzarella, which had been made the day before in Campania and flown from Naples to London that morning, along with a smoked mozzarella (buffala affumicata). This is a cheese that divides opinion - smoked naturally over hay, the cheese takes on a darker colour and a deeper taste that evoked autumn bonfires and nights outside. Strange perhaps but I lapped it up, shovelling the flavoursome datterini tomatoes into my mouth before my dining partner (my mother) could get a look in. Alongside this came more burrata (cow’s milk) with black truffle shavings and that signature creaminess that simultaneously oozes and melts in the mouth.
Then, the marinated artichokes. Delicate and fleshy, they’re handpicked and placed into small ceramic pots that keep the leaves from unfurling, leading to a tight and neat ear. And oh, the meat. The salame felino with peppercorns and lardo, the capocollo (cured top neck), prosciutto and speck, as well as bresaola. Authentic and oh so rapidly consumed.
The next course (there were many) was the line-caught yellowfin tuna tartare which came served chunky with tomatoes, capers and chopped olives, and a smear of avocado. A squeeze of lime and some seasoning brought out the freshness but perhaps a little something extra would have added a bit of depth. Alongside this and definitely not tiring of mozzarella at all came sliced mozzarella with Hampshire-grown heirloom tomatoes, juicy and flavoursome and perfect when drizzled with olive oil and the aged balsamic on the table.
Pasta lovers won’t be disappointed. Obica even converted the controversial non-pasta lover (my mum) with a handmade buffalo ricotta and black kale ravioli, lightly dusted with parmigiano reggiano and topped with a sage butter. It was a generous portion that we somehow managed to polish off, simplicity working its magic and that classic combination hitting a winning note.
And to round off the savoury feast came two pizzas. One with nduja and creamy burrata, applied post-pizza oven, and the other a bianco with porcini mushrooms, the flavours and fragrances just singing. We had been sat by the copper oven, watching the chefs expertly spin their dough and work their magic in minutes.
Finally, dessert. If you’ve made it this far, I salute you. And also elastic waistbands. Six courses at lunch is no mean feat but two glasses of rose help. And the inexplicable ability to always find room for pudding. We were presented with a buffalo ricotta cheesecake studded with pear - it was lighter than it looked, the density deceptive, and the flavour delicate. I preferred the warm Torta di Capri, a famous flourless chocolate cake made with nuts. This was dreamily light, as far from cloying as could possibly be, and accompanied by a fior di latte ice cream which brought just a hint of ‘clean’ to the palate. Needless to say, we polished them both off.
After this, we were well and truly done, replete and resplendent in Italian mozzarella and all the rest. Despite the lunchtime feast, we didn’t feel as if we’d overindulged - something attributed to the quality and simplicity (there’s that word again) of the ingredients used. It was a veritable banquet of my favourite cuisine and an exploration into the many uses of a cheese that’s so often just relegated to a pizza topping. There’s so much more to mozzarella than that sad little ball and it’s probably about time you discovered it and Obica for yourself. Bonus tip: ask for Irena and bask in your own Italian education.