There is some fantastic Japanese food on offer in London right now and few restaurants have as built as big a reputation as Roka.
With this in mind, I was delighted to get the chance to try it for myself. Sadly though, the London Piggy was unable to attend so you’re going to have to take the Hog’s word for it this time.
We arrived for a late lunch a few Fridays ago and were surprised by how busy it was. The main dining area on the ground floor is very light and airy and in the centre of the room there’s a giant robata grill, which provides some theatre. Due to there being seven of us though, we had booked a table in their basement bar The Shochu Lounge.
The premium tasting menu is £75 a head for thirteen courses (yes 13) and sounded amazing, so our mind was quickly made up. Our waitress suggested that we swap the lamb course for Wagyu beef for a £20 surcharge so we politely declined. Quite why this would require an extra £20 per-head is beyond me but I’m sure this kind of up-sell is an irrelevance to much of their clientele.
The first dish to arrive was a sashimi platter (moriawase san shu). Served in a giant granite bowl, filled with crushed ice and sat beside a piece of polished crystal, the presentation was ostentatious to say the least. It was, however, undoubtedly the best sashimi I’ve ever eaten.
One of my favourite dishes was the skewered scallops with wasabi cream (yaki hotate). It deservedly appeared in Time Out’s “100 Best Dishes in London” and was a faultless piece of cooking. A sweet scallop perfectly complimented by a luxurious, creamy wasabi kick. My only regret is that mine was gone in an instant. Not far behind in terms of taste was the black cod, crab and crayfish dumpling (gindara to gani no gyoza). It may look like your ordinary, run of the mill gyoza but as soon as you put one in your mouth, you’re in no doubt that it most certainly is not!
Roka is a seafood lover’s paradise but the meat courses also packed a serious punch. The Korean spiced lamb cutlets (kankoku fu kohitsuji) were pink and juicy and the mix of spices added a great depth of flavour. The smoked duck breast with barley miso and kumquats (kobu-jime kamo no kunsei yaki, kinkan to gohan) was moist, moreish and delicious. The salty miso and sweet tanginess of the kumquats combined brilliantly with the subtly smoked duck to make for a really stunning dish.
It just wouldn’t be proper of me to finish talking about the savoury dishes without mentioning the miso black cod (gindara no saikyo-yaki). It’s a beautifully cooked piece of fish, marinated in soy and miso (and I assume mirin & sake) then baked to perfection. It’s black and sticky on the outside and white and flaky on the inside. Fantastic!
The dessert was more of a mixed bag for me. It was served in the same way as the starter but this time, the bed of crushed ice was fish free. Instead, there was a selection of exotic fruit (some I could identify, others I could not). There were also scoops of colourful ice cream dotted around. Black sesame mochi, jasmine black tea, tonka bean and pear. I have to say that it made me pine for a scoop of good old Cornish vanilla.
The peanut, vanilla and chocolate sundae (tsubo iri tonyu to chocolate) sounded like it was going to be right up my street. Peanut butter and chocolate is one of my favourite combinations but alas it just didn’t work for me (or anyone else at the table). My favourite part of the dessert was the dark chocolate and green tea pudding (chocolate to maccha). It sounded fantastic and was a joy to eat.
It’s difficult to find fault with the food at Roka. However, the service really let it down. Maybe the problem was fact that we were in the Shochu Lounge rather than the main restaurant but I found the waitress to be far too pushy. One by one, we said no to dessert wine but undeterred, she circled the table trying to close the deal with one of us. It felt a little like I was paying to fly first class on BA but had Ryan Air’s cabin crew trying to sell me lottery tickets. This left a sour taste in the mouth, which was a shame.
I’d like to return with the London Piggy in tow but because of the service, I wouldn’t visit the Charlotte Street branch again.
Cost for the premium tasting menu, including wine and service £110 per head.
Address: 37 Charlotte Street London W1T 1RR
Phone: 020 7580 6464