When I want to go for Japanese food in London Roka is often a name that comes to mind but never ended up going to. It’s one of those internationally oriented (and expensive) Asian restaurants on in London that spent a fortune on designers to create an ambiance lifting up the food rather than the opposite. It’s very similar with Yauatcha in many ways in terms of styling, international staff, Asian cuisine and also being a highly successful restaurant based more on a concept rather than a star chef. The dining floor becomes a more upbeat space in the evening with more flow of people and the interior lighting coming alive when the sun goes down.
The food is no doubt Japanese with focus on grilled dishes with a few sushi/sashimi/vegetarian options on the menu. There is a Shochu Lounge underground where one can take the time to dive into the wide selection of Japanese liquors and spirits. We arrived late so we didn’t get the chance to warm up with a pre-drink. In fact we were a bit tight on time (table turning) and advised not to order a full tasting menu which was our original idea because of our late arrival. Maybe this affected the mood of our waiter because we didn’t see many smiles during the meal nor felt very welcome. At a place like this it’s lack of professionalism. Although disappointed of not getting to try the tasting menu we settled with a few items from the menu that turned out to be quite good in the end.
My first reaction when I saw the rolls was the little rice that was used. As can be seen in the photo some parts were only covered by one single layer of rice. Maybe I’m more traditional but I think that the rice is an important part of maki sushi. It’s like sports cars with thin tires, pretty but not comfortable to ride. The rolls were delicious though.
Not much to comment on the sashimi selection other than the good quality of ingredients.
This was very tasty. The juice was retained and the meat was tender. It went well with the yuzu like sauce.
Aubergine has the amazing quality of a sponge, sucking up all kinds of flavours it’s fed. The flavours in this are towards the sweeter end and a bit one dimensional after a few pieces. Maybe we should have ordered some rice to accompany it with.
I can’t remember what fish it was but it was good. Moisture was still there, skin was crispy. Flavouring was just about right. This was the best dish during the whole meal. I guess we should have ordered more dishes from the grill since it’s what they seem to be good at.
Dessert in Asian restaurants is usually a shy story unless there are some Western style desserts on offer, sometimes with some Asian influence thrown in like at Roka.
This was a fruity piece of dessert. The “snowball” of coconut (cream?) was chilled and injected with passion fruit. It was covered with thin slices of nori. Well executed and balanced dessert despite being so fruit heavy.
This dessert was the better one of the two if I had to make a choice. The chocolate cake was light and fluffy. Inside was a thick matcha cream that actually tasted green tea. I think a slightly higher chocolate to matcha cream ratio would make this perfect. I almost forgot the pear ice cream while enjoying the chocolate goodness.
Food-wise Roka delivered more than I expected. Flavours were pleasant and ingredients were good but I can’t help but think that more energy/resources is spent on making dishes look pretty than taste good (see my comments above on the California Roll). In general I was very happy with the food. It’s more the service that I think was the weakest link this evening. Unfortunately I think you’re paying more for the atmosphere than food which means that the bill took a healthy bite in the bank account. I won’t say I won’t come back again but I think it will not be in the near future as there are plenty of other Japanese restaurants to plow through in London.
For more photos from Roka, please visit my Flickr set.
37 Charlotte Street
London W1T 1RR
Tel. +44 (0)20 7580 6464