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)
Category: Restaurants - Japanese, W1T