Cigars, oysters, darts and pole-dancing have conspired to educate the drinking public that a “bar” need not specialize in something which can actually be imbibed. All the same, Obikà has picked a mighty odd niche to call its own. This Italian chain is reportedly the world’s first “mozzarella bar,” dedicated to that spongy cheese which ranks alongside polenta as Italy’s least flavorsome contribution to the annals of gastronomy. To which the most obvious response is: um, why?
If the choice of specialty is odd, Obikà did at least pick a good location for its inaugural Tokyo branch, which opened at the end of last year. Facing straight onto the road that curves around the back of Roppongi Hills, it feels close enough to the center of the action to maintain a healthy buzz, while remaining sufficiently chilled to make it suitable for a date or some post-work unwinding.
First-timers are advised to head there for the weekday happy hour (5-8pm), when ¥1,200 gets you a drink and as much as you can eat from a buffet of salads and antipasti. Subsequent drinks cost ¥500 each, which is a lot less than you’d pay the rest of the time. We start off with a bottle of Peroni Nastro Azzurro, one of those brisk, fruity Italian beers that make perfect sense on a warm summer’s evening. Breaking every rule in the book, we follow that up with a dry martini, which tastes watery but goes straight to our heads.
Outside happy hour, Obikà operates at standard Hills prices: draft Heartland costs ¥780, while cocktails range from ¥900 for a G&T to ¥1,200 for the aforementioned martini. The wine selection is exclusively Italian and listed by region; glasses go for ¥800 to ¥1,500, with bottles running from ¥3,000 to ¥13,000.
Naturally, buffalo mozzarella occupies pride of place in the food menu, and it doesn’t come cheap either: a selection of three dollops of the stuff—Pontina (strong), Paestum (mild) and smoked—will set you back ¥3,950. Obikà takes the sting out of that by offering one variety of the cheese in slightly cheaper sets with hams, salamis or other antipasti.
We try some Pontina with the caponata alla siciliana, a casserole of eggplant, tomato, olives and nuts (¥2,100 in a set or ¥900 on its own). The caponata is delicious, if a bit mushy. And the mozzarella? Well, we’d like to report that it was a revelation—that it didn’t, in fact, go down like tart, slightly chewy tofu—but we’d be lying. It’s nice enough, but the accompanying salad packs more taste.
Still, if the main event proves slightly disappointing, the dolce more than makes up for it. “Careful—it’s pretty big,” cautions our waiter when we order the traditional tiramisu (¥900), and he isn’t lying: we’ve eaten breakfast cereal out of smaller bowls. Next time, we’re coming for happy hour and then skipping straight to dessert. No offence to the cheese, natch.