Roka

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Like most Londoners (although admittedly an adopted Londoner after only two years in the city) I try to avoid Oxford street as much as possible. Only when forced there by the lure of a Selfridges sale or something similar will I abandon my local shops and head to the shopping mecca. A journey to Oxford street was required and so I decided to reward myself with a nice lunch before hand. After a week of Italian food I decided something light was in order. Reading through Cheese and Biscuit’s latest post that morning, I decided that something light would be Japanese at Roka.

Edamame

A few blocks off Oxford Street in the heart of Soho, Roka occupies a prime corner location which it takes advantage of with floor to ceiling windows allowing for two way people watching between customers and pedestrians. After all we are in media territory here so it is all about being seen. Inside Roka is spacious and dominated by a huge, open Robata grill. The grill is surrounded by a wooden counter top perfect for solo diners. The counter is carved out of large slabs of wood that still feature the natural contours of the wood to the extent that you have to be careful where you put your glass down in case it falls over.

Personally I could sit for hours and watch the Robata grill chefs at work. There are at least six of them hovering around the grill which operates as a sophisticated multi level barbeque. If you just took away the navy uniforms and black headbands the chefs could be any group of men tending a barbeque such is their focus and concentration on the flames. I assume though that considerably more skill and less charring will make my meal at Roka different from a typical barbeque experience.

My waiter is incredibly polite and helpful swiftly bringing tap water which he then refills when it falls below half full and constantly checking to see if I am alright. He is so helpful that he actually apologies for his extreme attentiveness explaining that despite the buzzing restaurant, I am the only customer in his section. The menu is split into sections including a tasting menu, small plates and then finally the Robata grill section. Whatever the menu, when I am in a Japanese restaurant I almost always have edamame beans. Roka’s version pop open to reveal smooth, green, buttery nuggets of peas seasoned with crystals of rock salt.

Soft shell crab

From the Robata grill the yakitori chicken skewers are spliced with spring onion and covered in dollops of a sticky oyster style sauce. The heat of the grill has caramelised the sauce and the spring onions so that the yakitori offer a sensational hit of sweet and savoury. The food looks stunning, like its sister restaurant Zuma, presentation is everything and each dish is served on beautiful stoneware and artistically arranged. Finally, a bit of fried food heaven. The soft shell crab’s spindly legs are delicate and crunchy while the meat inside is tender. The crab is served in a pool of smoky tasting mayonnaise adds moisture to balance the dry, crispy crab.

Although I only tried a small selection of dishes, each one was faultless. My only complaint would be that my food was served so quickly that I felt a bit rushed. Perfect for a quick lunch but a bit disconcerting if you are happy to linger. My waiter did explain that the food is served as it is prepared, however all my food did seem to arrive at the one time with my mains appearing before I was even halfway through the edamame. Still, lunch at Roka is a great experience and ordering carefully meant that my bill came to only £17 which is admittedly much more than a sandwich style lunch but pretty good for the standard of food and atmosphere on offer at Roka.

Details: 37 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia W1T 1RR (Ph 020 7580 6464)
Damage: Pricey
8/10

If you enjoyed reading this you might be interested in my review of Roka’s sister restaurant Zuma. Or if you feel like cooking Japanese food try this recipe for miso Salmon.

Roka on Urbanspoon

8 comments

  1. I love Roka – I’ve only been there a couple of times but every time the food and service has been pristine. I didn’t feel ‘rushed’, perhaps for dinner they take it slow? I did think it was a bit expensive though (I think about £120 for two people, some drinks included)… but we did eat a LOT. Good job keeping it to £17!!! 🙂

  2. Phew – glad you liked it. Always tricky when you rave about somewhere and then loads of people visit on your recommendation and hate it 🙂

    It’s very good value isn’t it, for what is probably the best Japanese restaurant in London.

  3. Have they finally done something about their waiting staff here?? We used to live nearby and went to Roka quite a lot for the yummy food (the service was always pretty questionable). However, the final straw came when we went for a special meal with another couple. The waiting staff were terrible and got it wrong on every level; to list just a few things: they couldn’t tell us what we were being served (pretty appalling given we all had ordered the set tatsting menu), they gave shell fish to a person who was allergic after we had specifically informed them, the other couple were getting their courses served ahead of us so we ended up totally out of sync (again – shouldn’t happen with a tasting menu for 4) and drinks service was forgotten about. We only paid half of the ‘discretionary’ serice charge (they actually didn’t deserve anything) and then were forced to justify our decision to the manager who was called over by the waiting staff. Not pleasant. I thought the food at Roka was always let down by the delivery (pretty common occurance in a London restaurant). As you can tell from my spiel, I’m still burning over it (it’s a love/ hate relationship – I miss their food).

  4. ooh sounds good. I always have it on my list of places to go but just never ever get around to going. £17 sounds very reasonable too

  5. Catty – good to hear you have enjoyed Roka. I also should point out that although I felt my meal was slightly rushed there was no pressure on me to leave at all, it was just the way the dishes came out. I can see how you can easily spend £120 there.

    Chris – I know the pressure, the pressure! I think it’s sister restaurant Zuma may have the slight edge on it but Roka is certainly a great Japanese restaurant

    Alina – thanks for your really detailed comment. That service sounds really bad and certainly a contrast to the service I received which was almost over eager. Here’s hoping that they have improved things overall and I did not just fluke upon good service.

    Genuiness – you do have to be quite restrained to only spend £17 I could have spent a LOT more but it is possible…

  6. I love eating at Roka (it’s too close to me to resist!). It’s been on my favourites list since forever. It is a bit noisy for decent conversation, but I do love the food there…

  7. I’ve wanted to go here for so long! I wanted to go for my birthday but had to cancel as I couldn’t afford it. I’m always on the hunt for soft shell crab too as the only examples I’ve eaten in London have been rubbish.

  8. Helen (LYP) – Noise factor was not too bad at lunchtime but I can imagine it gets a bit more hectic in the evenings

    Helen – I am obsessed with soft shell crab as well. Roka’s version was particularly good.

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