Roka on Charlotte Street has been on my London favourite restaurants list for a while now (read previous review). As I haven’t been back in four years however, I thought I’d better make sure it was still deserving of its place on the list. A fellow foodie, who has also eaten at Roka before, didn’t require much persuasion to have dinner with me there…
Specialising in ‘contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine‘, there are also branches in Hong Kong and Macau, while sister restaurant Zuma is a little closer to home in Knightsbridge. Downstairs in the basement is lounge bar Shochu, which serves unusual Japanese-influenced cocktails and some, but not all, of the food available in the restaurant. I’ve not been, but a couple of friends have said that it’s worth a visit if you happen to be at Roka.
I went to Roka several times for lunch and dinner in 2004 and 2005, and loved it each time. I’ve been seated at the wooden counter around the robata grill (for which you can’t reserve seats apparently), as well as tables further away from the action. If you love watching chefs preparing fresh food in front of you, then the counter seats are recommended. But if you’re in a group, then conversation will be easier at a table.
It can be full of media types, given its location in Fitzrovia, but I don’t mind this at Roka because I also work in the media, the innovative food distracts my attention from the hubbub, and the service is attentive without being overly obsequious (although on this visit, I was slightly irritated by the waitress attempting to explain the menu only to my friend, a well-dressed older male whom she assumed would be paying, when I was about to order our food).
It’s a complicated menu, and possibly deliberately so. The two tasting menus (at £50 and £75) are placed at the front of the menu in the hope that diners will feel confused, give up and simply select one of the two (recommended paired wines come at an extra cost). I’d always dreamt of having one of the tasting menus, but when I studied them more carefully, I realised that it would be more creative to order from the main menu. And I’m so glad we did, because we ordered just as much food and it ended up being cheaper too. So if you’re going to Roka for the first time, have a look at the menu online (although it’s not the complete menu and doesn’t show the prices) to get an idea of the different sections.
What we ordered:
Working from the back to the front of the menu (the robata dishes are at the back, so concentrate on these!), but of course the dishes were served in the correct order:
buta bara yaki
– suckling pork belly, shiso sauce and hijiki (£11.90) – a dish I was really looking forward to, and which ultimately disappointed. It looked lovely, but each piece contained so much fat, (three quarters fat to one quarter meat), that it was quite difficult to eat. I wonder how well this dish does at Roka
niko to asparagus no teriyaki
– beef & asparagus teriyaki skewers (£7.90) – you can never go wrong with skewers at Roka, and this is a prime example. I’ve had the plain asparagus skewers before, which were gorgeously fresh and crunchy, but the beef was succulent and complemented the asparagus beautifully. Highly recommended and good value for money, with two large skewers
– scallop skewers with wasabi and shiso (£10.90) – one of my favourite dishes at Roka. You get two scallops, but each is gigantic, plump, juicy and superbly grilled. It’s an absolute must!
maguro tempura maki roll
– minced tuna, pickled daikon tempura roll (£7.60). The better of the two maki roll that we ordered, but not as spectacular as the
age watari gani
or soft shell maki roll, which I’ve had twice. The latter is delicious, albeit somewhat tricky to eat (in particular the end pieces with the crab legs sticking out) and is very popular
ebi furai to avocado
– crispy prawn, avocado, chrysanthemum and dark sweet soy (£7.60) – this was one of my choices and I have to admit, a mistake. The prawn tasted ever so slightly burnt to me and I didn’t like it
roka age watari
– crisp soft shell crab with garlic, soy mayonnaise (£6.90) – if you’re a fan of soft shell crab, you may like this. The crab comes fried and split into two, so it’s easy to share between two people
ise-ebi to gindara no gyoza
– lobster and black cod dumplings (£12.60). Another mistake! This is twice as expensive as Roka’s pork and scallop dumplings, but not as flavoursome or exciting. Lobster and black cod are lovely but not served in dumplings together
dark chocolate and maccha pudding, crunchy jivara, pear ice cream –
it’s not possible from the descriptions on the pudding menu to work out what exactly is going to end up in front of you. So just go with the flow, as Roka’s desserts are almost guaranteed to be creative. I chose this based on the ingredients of dark chocolate and pear ice cream! A warm slice of chocolate heaven arrived, with a gooey green tea filling and a small scoop of fresh pear ice cream
raspberries and ivoire chocolate usugiri, rose vanilla custard –
this was beautifully presented, although we had no idea what usugiri was (it seems to be thin-sliced bread, according to Google!)
I’m older and a little wiser now, but find that Roka is still a wonderful restaurant where modern and creative dishes can be found. Sometimes it’s the simpler dishes that stand above the others, such as the scallop skewers, the asparagus skewers, the salmon skin temaki roll and soft shell crab maki roll. And although the dessert descriptions may make no sense to you, just pick the ingredients that sound tempting and you won’t be disappointed!
Roka remains on my London favourites list, but with half a point less than it received based on my previous visits. I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people looking for a good night out, although I would advise to order carefully, as it’s certainly not cheap to eat at Roka and the drinks will bump up the bill substantially.
Dinner for two including alcohol and service charge cost £140.00.
10 – Perfection, 9.5 – Sensational, 9 – Outstanding, 8.5 – Superb, 8 – Excellent, 7.5 – Very Good, 7 – Good, 6.5 – Above Average, 6 – Average
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Contact Details: Roka 37 Charlotte Street London W1T 1RR Tel: 020 7580 6464 www.rokarestaurant.com Helen Yuet Ling Pang @ World Foodie Guide Tags: dining out, food, Japanese, London, restaurant review, restaurants, Roka, traveleating, wine