Posted on Sunday, 4th January 2015
The chain of Roka restaurants offer a unique style of contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine, a cooking method where items of food are slowly grilled over hot charcoal. The original branch of Roka opened on Charlotte Street to much success and subsequent branches followed in Canary Wharf, Mayfair and on Aldwych. But the menu extends beyond just robata dishes. There is also a delectable selection of sashimi and nigiri, fried options including tempura, snacks, soups and rice dishes such as hot pots with lobster and miso butter. Now how good does that sound?
We visited Roka Aldwych which opened last November. Designed by Claudio Silvestrin who was also responsible for L’anima and Alan Yau’s Princi on Wardour Street, the restaurant is spacious and grand with a sleek, contemporary minimalist look, a style for which Silvestrin is well known. Like all the other Rokas, the robata grill plays centre stage at Roka Aldwych, and in addition to the tables in the main dining room, guests can also eat in the lounge area and at the robata bar.
We started with the yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables (£14.60), and the spectacular scent of truffle immediately caught our attention when the dish arrived at our table. This dish was pure perfection. The quality of the fish and the balance of the truffle yuzu dressing was absolutely flawless. It was an exquisite dish and we enjoyed it immensely. If you only order one thing at Roka Aldwych, this has to be it.
We followed this with the 5-piece sashimi selection and the tuna tartare. The sashimi included salmon, tuna, sea bream, yellow tail and sweet shrimp (£26.60) and was delectable. The quality, taste and texture of the sashimi were sublime, and the fish was unquestionably of the highest grade.
The tuna tartare with oscietra caviar and quail egg yolk (£12.60) was a clever spin on a French favourite. The French tradition was not lost as we ceremoniously combined fish with the egg and caviar to enjoy the tartare in its entirety. This was served with a lovely piece of crunchy crispbread which added a crunchy contrast. Again, this was as marvellous as the previous dishes.
From the tataki section, the seared beef striploin with black truffle dressing, cucumber, daikon pickle and miso tapioca crisp (£13.00) was another enjoyable dish. The beef was wonderfully tender and tasty, although the black truffle dressing was not as aromatic as that of the truffle ponzu dressing in the yellowtail sashimi dish.
The rock shrimp tempura with wasabi pea seasoning and chilli mayonnaise (£14.30) came with rock shrimp that was sweet and plump. As for the batter, it wasn’t a traditional tempura batter, but it was very enjoyable nevertheless as it was light and crispy. This was a tasty modern recreation of a traditional favourite with a solid dipping sauce.
We moved onto the robata section, starting with some spiced chicken wings with salt and lime (£4.90) which were sticky, succulent and tender. These were delicious with a sticky sweet marinade.
Glazed baby back ribs with cashew nuts (£15.00) were well cooked and very tender. However the sauce lacked oomph and we would have preferred a sauce with a bolder flavour. Although good, this was our least favourite dish from all the things we tried at Roka Aldwych.
We loved the whole lobster with ponzu and umami dressing (£38.60) as it was delicious. The charcoal effect of the robata grill had permeated the lobster flesh to give it a special and subtle smoky flavour that lingered lovingly after each bite. It was also topped with a wonderful ponzu and umami dressing which made it all the more delicious. The meat lobster had been cleverly carved out of the shell so that it was easy to eat and there was no need to mess around with the shell.
The texture of the black cod marinated in yuzu miso (£31.30) was absolutely gorgeous. This Roka signature boasted of a texture that was silky and smooth, and flesh that flaked beautifully. The yuzu miso was delicious and gave the fish a lovely caramelisation.
To desserts, and a dark chocolate and green tea pudding with crunchy jivara chocolate and pear ice cream (£9.60) did not disappoint. Chocolate on the outside, the inside of the pudding contained a molten green tea centre that glowed an emerald green colour. This dessert was deliciously comforting, rich and decadent, and paired well with the refreshing sweetness of the pear ice cream.
A Japanese style ‘cotton’ soft cheesecake accompanied with robata grilled pears and a cream cheese ice cream (£8.30) was equally enjoyable as it was lovely and light. The cheesecake resembled a light airy sponge cake, and the combination of the dusting of crumbs and the cream cheese ice cream created the delicious effect of a traditional cheesecake.
This was Japanese food of the highest order with a menu that provided a wonderful balance between the traditional and the contemporary. The quality of the produce was outstanding, and with the precise cooking at Roka Aldwych, the results were highly exciting. The service was knowledgeable and accommodating to round off an excellent experience from start to finish. The bill can stack up as there were so many items that can tempt you into over ordering, so choose carefully if you’re on a budget.
Note: Words and pictures by Food Porn Nation and myself.
1) The food is superb.
2) The yellowtail sashimi is a must try.
1) Prices can add up.
Food rating: 4.25/5
Service rating: 3.75/5
Price range: Robata grill £4.90 – £69.90 , sashimi: £4.90 – £26.60, maki rolls £4.60 – £9.60, tonkusen (specials) £9.60 – £29.60. Excludes drinks and service.