Roka Charlotte Street ~ Where the Cherry Blossoms bloom

Hashtag Life Magazine visits Roka Charlotte Street to review their delicious Japanese menu and seasonal Cherry Blossom installation in the Shochu Lounge and Bar

As you walk into a beautiful setting of the ultra-hip Shochu Lounge of Roka Charlotte street, you are greeted by one of every Londoner’s  favourite sights: their stunning cherry blossom tree installation to welcome in the summer, alongside their dim-lights, lounge-like seating, cool beats, even cooler staff, and the irresistible Roka menu. 

We visited to drink and dine under the beautiful canopy of pink-cherry blossoms making us feel opulent and fresh at the same time, and had the pleasure of sampling some of Roka’s new signature dishes, as well as unavoidable favourites (like their rock shrimp!!) Here are some of the must haves from their menu – but hurry, the installation is at Shochu until 7 June – if only summer and it’s cherry blossoms could come twice or three times a year!

We started with a toast to the evening ahead, sampling their beautifully presented Sakura Sour cocktail. Roka has an enviable wine list – but here above most places, I would emphasise their crafty cocktails as a must for your evening. This current signature features Hibiki Japanese Harmony, kumquat, peach and sakura – the result is a well blended, sweet yet tangy and mouth-watering cooler. A must try – I should have ordered two!

Our lovely hostess, Debbie, who presented us her favourite dishes with such passion and a far better description of the flavours and ingredients than I feel I could offer, also happens to read minds, as she presented us with a ‘taster’ plate whilst we deliberated over what to order. I have been hankering for Roka’s yellow tail sashimi, with the thin, soft slices artfully laid out in a flower shape and drenched in delicious ponzu sauce, since my last visit. Debbie emerged with the dish and I had to contain my excitement – it is one of Roka’s signatures which they produce so well and it is never disappointing  – the yellowtail is always succulent and meltingly-soft, and the ponzu always leaves your taste-buds buzzing and craving more!

It’s difficult to know what, and how much, to select from Roka’s extensive menu – my rule of thumb at Roka is to never overlook their small plates and signature dishes, which can change seasonally, and then move onto their robata-grill dishes which you won’t find made like this at many Japanese restaurants.

So following my own advice, we started with the Gyu No Tataki To Truffle – seared beef striploin with black truffle dressing, cucumber and miso tapioca crisps. It is refreshingly crunchy thanks to the pickled cucumber hidden within the curled moist seared beef, mastering the art of not so subtle garnishing, in the form of truffle. The kind of dish that tastes as beautiful as it looks.

Next, we sampled the Sake No Tartar. Don’t be fooled by its pocket-sized portion; this salmon tartar is like no other. Packed with a mean punch of tangy flavour from the yuzu-miso sauce it is marinated in, one marvels at how raw fish can be brought to such culinary life with the right preparation. 

With our eyes being bigger than our stomachs, we did opt to sample the sushi – a small beautiful selection which albeit tasty and intricately made, was unfortunately less comparable to the other dishes we had sampled.

What’s really worth writing home about is the rock shrimp. I mean THE rock shrimp. A burst of flavour starting from the crispy, tangy outer shell to the juicy king prawns squashed within that just melt in your mouth. Not a starter for sharing, but inhaling, which our awesome waiter Javi seemed to notice as he brought us another!

The generous portion of glazed black cod is the most solid dish of the evening. It is heartwarmingly filling but light, and beautifully complimented by the fruity yuzu miso side sauce, perfectly satisfying for those with a sentiment for sweet-savoury. 

Next it was time to put the chopsticks to one side to face their monster of a dish: the famous Roka Ribs. The soft meat is deliciously soaking with a rich and intense sauce, that immediately adopts a sweet and sour edge when lime is added. Finger-bitingly good, this dish is the reason you should not wear white to Roka. Another of the staff at Roka, the polite, professional and warmly-welcoming Oliver, giggled as he came to clear the plate and we just uttered the word: “ah-ma-zing” as he took away the perfectly-gnawed at remaining pile of bones.

Finally seeking the perfect end to a supreme meal – we glanced over the dessert menu to play the ‘what would you order if you weren’t so stuffed’ game. Having seemingly befriended the entire team of down-to-earth, friendly and never too busy for you in a very busy restaurant, the self-dubbed “Will-from-Brazil” took a seat by us and asked us if we were ready for dessert. We of course were not, and tried to distract him by listing everything we had already eaten in a bid to prove that we did not actually deserve dessert.He then told us just how exciting the desserts were, but that he unfortunately had to stay away from them as he was off to Mykonos with 27 ripped-guys in a month and had to ‘get in shape’, although the man couldn’t look more like a magazine cut-out if he tried! So out of completely camaraderie we decided to take one for the team and asked for his recommendation.

He simply brought out the mother of all fruit baskets and dessert platters in answer to our seemingly silly question. Why the stress of choosing one when you can have the whole dessert menu was clearly their line of thought. We were stunned into silence as equally overwhelmed by the edible mini jungle set before us. Adorned with exotic fruits – from lychee, passion fruit, dragonfruit, kumquat and sapodilla to name a few – their signature chocolate mousse with matcha green tea and white chocolate ice cream with red velvet crumble are truly what dessert dreams are made of.

It is not only the team, the food, the ambience or the installation in isolation which make Roka and it’s Shochu lounge such a hit for me, although each of these components on their own make me feel like every visit their out-does the last, and leaves me fantasising about my next visit! I would gladly take residence there for exchange of a life-time supply of Rock Shrimp – but whatever favourite you find there – the balance of excellent food, flavours, fun and people, in addition to their artistic seasonal installations will leave you as avid fans of Roka as I am!

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