Hashtaf Life visits and reviews award-winning Japanese restaurant ROKA Charlotte Street during a transformation this October as it pays homage to the most striking of autumnal trees, the maple. The stunning installation is set within it’s Shochu Bar and with it’s ever tempting signature Roka menu; so how could we resist?
Roka is already home to one of the best Japanese menus in London. I love the Roka chain because it is understated whilst holding huge authority over the London crowd of fine diners and foodies. It took things one step further in terms of style to add to it’s substance when it launched it’s Autumnal Maple Tree Installation at it’s flagship restaurant in Charlotte Street. I was a little confused, in honesty, as to why this was happening in late October – but then I rescinded this when thinking about how there is nothing I hate more than seeing Valentines day start on January 2nd, Easter Eggs in February, and Christmas decorations and their many accompaniments of ‘winter gardens’ and what not, in September. So celebrating Autumn at this time (which is reflective of the Japanese culture of embracing the changing of seasons) seemed fine by me – at least it wasn’t ushering you through your year.
The installation is frankly stunning: the Shochu bar downstairs has been turned into a myriad of reds and oranges with a light tinge of evergreen beneath them, in the form of huge trees emerging from the floor to the ceiling; wall-mirrored reflections of them, and low lighting to emphasise the richness of these hues. In short: I have made two bookings to return there since. It is the kind of setting you cannot get enough of, and feel sophisticated, sexy, and smooth whilst basking in it.
The service at Roka is always a great balance between having a cavalry of people attend to you, but who also make it seem like they have all exchanged notes, and so will never ask you the same question twice. The real merit however really does reside in the expansive, detailed and passionate menu on offer at Roka – it just never fails to disappoint. My journey that evening was certainly through the courses, with the change of seasons which Roka has evoked in it’s setting, reflective of a beautiful emphasis on truffles and other seasonal ingredients. We started with a trademark yellow-tail sashimi dish which it was too dark for me to look in the eye, but I really didn’t need to, as the enticing aromas of truffle wafted towards me. It evoked a sort of panic in me as I not only love the soft, meltable textures of yellow-tail but the spritely flavour of ponzu is always a winner: so adding truffle to the mix is both deadly and divine. We likewise made winning choices in ordering the seared Wagyu beef with shaved black truffle, wrapped around slices of cucumber for a refreshing finish. The beef is so tender and soft and envelopes the dish so well; the cucumber is an excellent cool breeze to the overall taste. Although the shaved truffle isn’t as pungent as the ponzu preceding it, it does add a surprising crunch right before it dissolves slightly on your tongue.
What is dinner anywhere pan-Asian without an order of Rock Shrimp? It is ample sized and tempting when it arrives; and to the taste the batter is crunchy enough whilst the shrimp itself is so soft it simply evaporates in our mouths. The not-too-thick sweet chilli mayo is an accomplishment in itself for not being sickly and sticky as it tends to be in so many restaurants, and really makes the flavour pop. The entire dish is just so moreish; as rock shrimp should only ever be.
We also (regretfully) ordered the Crab Hot Pot – it is a brilliant idea – but also a stupid one when you haven’t even progressed onto your main courses. The hot pot is gooey, succulent, flavoursome and piping hot. Oh yes, and seemingly bottomless. No matter how many times we came back to it throughout the meal for more spoonfuls: it would keep replenishing itself. It is a heavy dish, and whilst the crab is both delicate and well-blended into the oozing and sticky rice, it really comes through in flavour.
Roka of course know the art of making a good Sushi and the Soft Shell Crab Maki is no exception. There is such a thing as over-frying soft shell crab, I feel, and Roka manage to achieve the opposite of this. It is moist whilst crispy, and light whilst terribly naughty.
For gluttony, we ordered a side-dish of mushrooms which were glaze in an extremely thick sauce which they could have done without, and the dish was largely overwhelming which is rare for me, someone who will – bizarrely – crave mushroom at all times of the day.
For mains, the ribs were the right amount of sticky and the right amount of sweet, yet at the same time, not the kind you could really sink your teeth into – this must have been a particularly skinny pig, whose ribs we’d extracted for this dish. The lamb however, falls off the cutlet it comes attached to. It is astonishingly soft. Although a little bland (this may be in part in comparison to the uber-sensory garnishes and dressings most dishes on the menu are presented with) this actually allows the juices of the meat to really plunge through each bite.
I haven’t even covered a quarter of the menu on offer at Roka, but as a relief, all that we did order. Needless to say there was no human-capacity left for dessert. This confirmation was communicated to our waiter with the cliché of ‘its an excuse to come back again’ – although anyone who ever uses this phrase is a fool as we know we would fall into the very same trap of over-ordering on the first page of the menu, for delight and salivation at it’s very offering. We were back again, in fact, and only fifteen minutes later. Not because we had managed to swap bodies with anyone for an expedited round two – but to collect a tie we’d left at the restaurant. Needless to say: you know just how good and filling a meal has been when you begin to brace yourselves throughout it, by casually removing items of clothing. Where are Joey Tribbiani’s meat-pant when you need them?
37 Charlotte Street W1T 1RR; 020 7580 6464; rokarestaurant.com