When Roka approached us and asked if we would like to come and review the Aldwych branch for our #TasteRecommends feature, I jumped for joy. My first encounter with Roka was at Taste of London last year, where I repeatedly returned to their stand to devour portion after portion of their black cod, crab and crayfish dumplings, so I knew dinner would be special. Roka is the younger sister to the glitzy celebrity hangout Zuma in Knightsbridge, and is just as stylish and glamourous. The interior is a wash of dark walls, spotlights and wood panelling and the tables surround the focal point of the restaurant; a huge robata grill. Seating surrounds the grill, so you can watch the chefs “Oi!” in unison each time an order is placed.
Service at Roka is slick and attentive Within five minutes of being seated we’ve been offered a round of drinks, had water poured, given warm towels to rid London’s dirt from our hands and had an order taken for appetisers (“spicy edamame beans? Yes please!”). The manager introduces himself and asks if we’d like them to take care of the menu. We agree and selections of their most popular dishes begin appearing in earnest.
We start with a delicate yellowfin tuna carpaccio with yuzu and truffle sauce, which is both elegant and simple and full of flavour. The black cod, crab and crayfish dumplings make another appearance and I’m reminded of how good they are – big chunks of fish adding texture whilst hints of chilli lingers as an afterthought. A platter of sashimi arrives, theatrically presented on a block of ice and on it sits beautiful pieces of sea bream, smoked brill, tuna and salmon, all incredibly fresh and taste superb when eaten with a smudge of fresh wasabi. The wasabi appears again on top of salmon, avocado and asparagus maki giving these rolls a wonderful hint of heat. My colleague and I warred with chopsticks to finish the serving of rock shrimp tempura which were an unquestionable highlight. These crunchy and crisply battered pieces were incredibly moreish and delicious when scooped into the accompanying chilli mayonnaise.
Already in food heaven, our waiter whisks away our empty glasses of bubbles and suggests we move onto wine. “Yes please” we nod and almost instantly fresh glasses appear filled with a crispy yet subtle Sauvignon Blanc. Dishes created from the robata grill arrive next, and they are worth the wait. Succulent skewers of beef have been licked with a charcoal flame and have a delicate hint of smoke. We try chicken and spring onion skewers that have been glazed with a sticky Teriyaki-inspired sauce. These are lick-your-fingers good. These meaty morsels are accompanied with shards of chilled iceberg lettuce covered in a caramelised onion dressing and roasted sweet potato served with Nori butter. We end on a high with the celebrated black cod marinated in Yuzu miso, which is now on my list of potential death-row dinner requests. The fish’s exterior is sticky and charcoaled whilst the flaky flesh melts in the mouth, with the Yuzu fires umami explosions in your mouth.
Having put dinner to rest, we’re suitably stuffed and we implore for a moments rest before the dessert course. One must not skip the desserts at Roka, even if one is at the point of combustion. A fanfare would’ve been appropriate for the momentous dessert platter that landed before us. The desserts are stylish, inventive and theatrical – a dark chocolate and green tea pudding and a Yuzu tart with raspberry coulis and green tea meringue are the highlights. These are nestled between selections of seasonal and exotic fruit, sorbet and ice creams. We swore we wouldn’t finish it… but we did.
Simply put, Roka is fabulous. The relaxed but elegant setting allows the food to shine and each dish we tried was impeccable. The excellent Japanese cuisine and faultless service make it a very special dining experience. Now a firm fan, as I knew I would be, I will smugly boast about my Roka dinner to anyone who will listen for a long while. There is some fantastic Japanese food on offer in London right now, but for the discerning foodie Roka should be top of your list.