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Roka Reviewed

Nicole Dalamagas wants to Roka

Written by . Published on October 18th 2011.

Roka Reviewed

A FEW Mondays back, my flatmate and I attended the screening of Final Destination 5. This latest instalment in the series of teenage splatter horrors has jumped on the 3D bandwagon, throwing the blood and guts of eight interchangeable youths right into its uninterested audience’s faces. Beginning with the collapse of a packed suspension bridge over the Hudson, the survivors, all employees of a coincidentally collapsing company, are each disposed of in incredibly elaborate and drawn out ‘accidents’, that are not only outlandishly gruesome, but also explicitly detailed. I’m not sure if it's just me, but throughout each casualty (which include a gymnast dodging an upright pin for a good ten minutes only to end up falling off the bar into a twisted heap of bone, blood and broken body parts, death by acupuncture in a Chinese massage parlour and perhaps most favourably, an ophthalmologist's laser burning right through the eyeball of the stereotypically big-breasted, attractive twenty-something), I couldn’t help but feel as though the only really likeable character in the film was Death himself. Hats off to him for ridding the planet of eight brainless, irritating Americans; if I were Death, I would have killed them too, and you have to give him credit for his imaginative work.

Architectural-style courses seem to be a bit of a theme at Roka. The soy glaze tofu (£4.90) was building blocks of firm-on-the-inside, but crispy-on the-outside tofu, a domino set of vegetarian loveliness, crowned with crispy garlic crisps and bathing in a sea of soy.

Img_1101 After watching two hours of non-stop gore, the last thing most people want to do is eat. But we’re not most people; no amount of violence can suppress a northern appetite. Walking down Charlotte Street, we couldn’t help but salivate through Roka’s glass-fronted entrance. This restaurant has never failed to cause a stir amongst the food critic and blogger community. I remember reading in one journalist’s review, who had had a particularly unfriendly encounter with the door security, that his time at Roka was "a truly awful experience in a truly terrific restaurant." Another quipped, "it won’t Roka your world", and my own personal favourite snubbed, "brilliant modern Japanese cooking to horrendous worldtrash people." And so, naturally, we went in.

baechu kimchi (£4.60)Baechu kimchi

Owned by German restaurateur, Rainer Becker, who also happens to own Zuma, Roka’s ‘worldtrash’ customer base are a product of its three media-driven, suit-scape locations: Hong Kong, Canary Wharf and Charlotte Street. On first scan, its like Where’s Wally for journos – you know there’s a normal family in there somewhere, you just can’t see them for all the angry, loud, gnawing, media vultures. Taking a seat, it all began to seem a little Final Destination. Roka has an open kitchen, around which customers sit and watch as their food is prepared. As the chef de-boned a fish, with such precision it was as though he was giving it acupuncture, I couldn’t help but sweat a little. I unzipped my jacket. Knives flashed all around. Fear crept in. 


“Let’s get a drink,” my flatmate said, as though in silent agreement. I started off with a glass of plum ume shu (£6.90), which our friendly, but poorly spoken waiter kindly let me try a small glass of first. It’s created to preserve the beneficial qualities of fresh, seasonal herbs and fruits, using the traditional Japanese spirit, shocu, but to a simple palette, it tastes a bit like Ribena. My date ordered a Setting Sun (£8.60), which was a little too sweet for my liking, but seemed to go down well.

soy glaze tofu (£4.90)Soy glaze tofu

Next came the baechu kimchi (£4.60), which was overpowered with way too much garlic, and the cabbage was freezing and slimy. It’s worth noting that in hindsight, what can one really expect from cold, soggy cabbage? It’s not like a burnt chocolate brownie or out of date piece of brie; it was never going to be delicious, no matter how beautifully it was presented to us.

black cod dumpling (£12.60)Black cod dumpling

But Roka made it up to us on the next dish. The asparagus, complete with sweet soy and sesame dressing (£4.90) was quite honestly, the best asparagus I’ve ever tasted. We watched it prepared in front of us, the chef skewering each perfectly cut slice into what can only be described as an asparagus temple. Architectural-style courses seem to be a bit of a theme at Roka. The soy glaze tofu (£4.90) was building blocks of firm-on-the-inside, but crispy-on-the-outside tofu, a domino set of vegetarian loveliness, crowned with crispy garlic crisps and bathing in a sea of soy. Japanese food can often be a difficult choice for vegetarians, but this was a well-thought out and flavourful dish. 

rock shrimp (£12.30)Rock shrimp (£12.30)

My dining partner ordered the black cod dumpling (£12.60) and the rock shrimp (£12.30), both of which were once again, impeccably presented, the dumplings like little tipis of fishy goodness, drizzled with a sweet sauce and a few edamame beans thrown in for good measure.

brocolli (£4.90)Brocolli (£4.90)

We also shared a side of broccoli (£4.90) and a mushroom maki (£5.30). The broccoli was grilled, tenderstem and topped with a delicious bean sauce. The maki was fresh and contained an array of mushroom kinds, none of which I could name or even fathom one from another, but a real treat nonetheless.

mushroom maki (£5.30)Mushroom maki (£5.30)

Although now stuffed, the desserts were too irresistible to miss. The decadent dark chocolate and maccha pudding with pear ice-cream (£8.90) was unbelievable. As my fork pierced the logo-printed dark chocolate surface and sank into the spongy, soft, chocolate core, a river of green goo at once flooded out, creating a thick swamp around the plate. It looked disgusting, but it tasted like heaven. The yoghurt almond cake with red bean ice-cream and toffee banana (£7.60) was equally magnificent. The cake was just the right texture and came drizzled with banoffee sauce. You’re usually lucky if you get a bowl of sorbet in a Japanese, so desserts of this high quality were warmly welcomed.

maccha pudding with pear ice-cream (£8.90)Maccha pudding with pear ice-cream (£8.90)

Overall I'd have to give Roka credit where it's due; each course was stunning, and I'd be really interested to see what their other options are like (particularly the desserts). It's also worth checking out the Shochu Lounge bar in the downstairs basement. It's been open for a while now, but still holds an air of exclusivity and pure cool. There's an impressive array of shochu-based drinks and Japanese-style cocktails and the full Roka menu is available too.

yoghurt almond cake with red bean ice-cream and toffee banana (£7.60)Yoghurt almond cake with red bean ice-cream and toffee banana (£7.60)

37 Charlotte Street


Rating:         16/20
Breakdown:    8/10 food
                     4/5 service
                     4/5 ambience


Follow @NicoleDalamagas on Twitter!


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.



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