Risotto is a dish that has the ability to confound the most competent chef. Even some fairly smart kitchens fail to turn out a half-decent version. So a restaurant dedicated entirely to this Italian staple might appear a brave—or foolhardy—venture. Memories of uncooked rice floating in tasteless broth came flooding back as I sat in Ooze, the UK’s first risotto bar. Thankfully that was before the food arrived.
In fact I was busy compiling a mental checklist of the most disappointing risottos of all time (I was eating alone). For the record, top slot was taken by an awful example served up in the now defunct Café Med in Islington. It was so under cooked it wouldn’t have oozed had you wrapped it in cling film and left it on top of a hot radiator for a week.
Ooze is located just off Tottenham Court Road (on Goodge Street), in that peculiar area north of London’s Oxford Street, described as “Noho” or “Fitzrovia”. It is pitched clearly as a lunchtime destination for local office workers. The idea is simple enough—fast, tasty and healthy food at a reasonable price. So far, so straightforward.
The menu is easy to negotiate, with a series of interesting sounding risottos split into the obvious categories—fish, meat and veg. All told, there are 13 risottos on the menu, plus a few specials of the day. That the staff didn’t seem familiar with any of the specials (despite it being the tail end of a lunchtime) can probably be overlooked as a teething problem. Notable creations include the “all day breakfast” risotto—a worthy attempt at the perfect hangover cure—and sliced sirloin, red onion, red wine and rocket.
If the décor doesn’t exactly invite you to spend the afternoon here, it certainly looks after you over lunch. The clean, modern and minimal interior does tend toward the clinical.
And what of the food? I had opted for the porcini mushroom and cherry tomato risotto (as good a benchmark risotto as any). Served with a small bowl of Parmesan cheese, there was little to fault in the consistency or flavour. Little to fault, but less to praise. It wasn’t bad. It wouldn’t make anyone’s worst risotto list, but it would be unlikely to make onto the greatest risottos list either.
As I left, it struck me that the place lacks character. From the considered interior to the menu design and the food itself, this is a restaurant that wears its brand credentials on its sleeve. Expect more openings soon. And while a string of Oozes across London and the UK wouldn’t be a bad thing, I can’t get excited about it either.