I’ve been meaning to go to Roka for quite some time now. Since Taste of London 2014 to be precise; I never forget a meeting, first impressions do count, and Roka’s cod and crab dumplings made quite the impression on me. After fighting a certain someone for the last one, I made a mental note to book in a proper meal at the restaurant soon but that plan fell by the wayside. It was my first year in London so all the old restaurants were new and shiny to me, and all the new restaurants were even shinier… Roka was soon forgotten.
Until Taste of London 2015; same delicious gyozas, same mental note, and even more conviction in my vow to book in a proper meal as I had since learnt of its excellent reputation and IT-restaurant status amongst fashionable food bloggers who dabble in a fair bit of Japanese fine dining! However, once again I was thwarted by my fickle and forgetful nature and it took me almost another year before I finally set foot in one of Roka’s four London restaurants.
I decided to book us in for the weekend brunch (which was really a lunch as we went after 12pm, and you all know I loathe brunch at the best of times) because I was sick of suffering FOMO after reading every blog post and seeing every instagram photo raving on and on about how fabulous it is! And they’re almost completely right, it is good… but we weren’t quite as dazzled as others have been. Perhaps we were less generous given we weren’t wearing unlimited prosecco-tinted glasses…?!
Once our round of bellinis arrived, the first of the dishes soon followed – the obligatory edamame, a selection of pickles, and a couple of salads. I always find edamame a little bland and pointless but still have a few whenever they’re placed in front of me, in case I’ve changed my tune about them. I haven’t. The pickles, on the other hand, I love; particularly the crunchy daikon… so much so, I may have asked for a top up! Of the salads, we agreed that the gado-gado, presumably based on the Indonesian dish with a peanut dressing, and the odd potato salad were forgettable, but the asparagus one was a winner – vibrant and tangy.
Our conversation was momentarily silenced by the arrival of the sashimi platter, one of my favourite food sights. With my chopsticks at the ready, I could have devoured all the fat, glistening slices of tuna, salmon and sea bass but then remembered I had to share, which was somewhat disappointing. I also wasn’t pleased at the prospect of sharing the scrumptious maki rolls, particularly the cucumber with spicy mixed sashimi on top… The cruelty continues.
I liked the pork and prawn dumplings but I might cheekily claim that mine are just as good. The mixed vegetable and prawn tempura was also all fine and dandy, adequately crisp and all that, but hardly overwhelming. Instead, I turned my attention to ordering another cocktail, a lychee flavoured sugar-fiend’s delight, while waiting for the mains.
We shared the salmon fillet teriyaki with sansho salt, glazed baby back ribs with cashew nuts, baby chicken with lemon, miso and garlic soy, and beef sirloin with chilli and spring onion; basically trying to cover most bases. I’d eat all of them again but some with more enthusiasm than others – the beef and salmon being at the ‘if there’s nothing else on the table’ end while the ribs and chicken would be regulars.
The ribs were quite the triumph in my humble opinion; so many times I’ve had ribs which fall suspiciously easily off the bone… As if someone had boiled them to death then smothered them with sauce, but not these. Tender but not disintegrated into a meaty mush. My only real complaint is that a bit of steamed rice and maybe even stir fried vegetables wouldn’t have gone amiss as a side.
Then finally, the arrival of the much lauded dessert platter with its infamous chocolate Buddha alongside other mini desserts and a selection of ice creams and fruit pieces! This was not the time to be shy – we all just got our spoons in there any which way and had a bit of everything… The Buddha did not disappoint but the light yet creamy panna cotta with raspberries was my highlight! Like little sugar deprived vultures, we picked at the platter until there was nothing but crushed ice and empty bowls.
We had such a brilliant time we hardly noticed how long we were there for; I like that. Never once were we rushed and the food came out in a measured, comfortable pace. Roka Aldwych have really perfected the delivery of the Han Setto brunch… But have they become a little complacent with this offering? The dishes were good but given all the praise I’ve heard for the rest of the menu, I can’t help but think we got a little jipped in quality and creativity – I think a return visit is in order to try what might be the real Roka delights!
I know you’ve all been to Roka because I am the last foodblogger on earth to dine there… did you love it? What should I order on my next visit?!