Monday, 13 July 2009

Roka, Fitzrovia



Roka is a Robata-yaki restaurant. No, I didn't know what it meant either - it turns out that it stands for the large charcoal grill in the centre of the room - the Robata - and the food cooked on it. Sort of a Japanese barbecue pit, only with sushi on the side instead of cornbread and grits, it attracted my interest because there's very few things I won't eat that have been cooked on a charcoal grill (to be fair, there are very few things I won't eat full stop, except perhaps raw rabbit brains, which is a shame because I'm apparently going to be served them in El Bulli in September... wish me luck).


We began with the obligitory bowl of edamame, which were a very good example of their kind - in fact probably the best I've had. Buttery and moist inside, salted evenly throughout and packed with flavour. Super.


Next arrived a very attractive plate of sashimi, with the even slices of raw fish arranged around a spectacular mountain of solid ice. The fish itself was fine - no more but certainly no less tasty than that I've had elsewhere - but it was the presentation that won here. Maybe that's the point of sashimi after all.


Next began arriving the hot dishes. My least favourite was first - a tray of grilled aubergine. It occurred to me as I was working my way through the soggy pieces of vegetable that perhaps I just don't like aubergine, and indeed I can't think of many times I've really been wowed by what is essentially a big tasteless bag of mushy grey flesh. Perhaps one day I'll be proved wrong, but in the meantime, I Don't Like Aubergine. There, I've said it.


Then, to save the day, a great dish of grilled chicken wings, coated I think in some sort of honey and soy sauce and sesame seeds, and a little wooden spoon of sea salt by the side. There was nothing subtle about the flavours here, but the crispy sugar from the honey, the sea salt and the chicken fat combined to produce a wonderful feast for every part of your palette. This was food from heaven's own barbecue - bold and brilliant.


And then, as if that wasn't enough, the black cod arrived. At £20 a plate, this had a lot to live up to, but boy did it. A sweet crust of honey and spices broke to reveal the most incredibly meaty, flavoursome flesh and gorgeous crispy skin underneath. Served prettily inside a dried leaf and with a stick of what looked and tasted like pickled lemongrass, the fact that it was actually very slightly overcooked at the edges did nothing to distract from the extraordinarily rich flavour of the fish and masterful use of spices. Worth every bit of its £20 price tag, this is the first fish dish I've had in a very long time that I never wanted to end. I've been dreaming about it ever since.

Along with impeccable and genuinely friendly service and a light and informal room (we bundled in wearing jeans and t-shirts and laden with John Lewis shopping bags but didn't feel out of place), you'd be nit picking to find anything to fault about Roka at all. Apart from the odd extravagant option (and if that black cod is any indication, these are pricey for a reason) it is all very reasonably priced, presented with flair bordering on artistry, and yet with the most important thing - the flavour - still taking centre stage. I'll even do them a favour and ignore the dish I didn't like - after all, they weren't to know I Don't Like Aubergine.

9/10

Roka on Urbanspoon

19 comments:

Browners said...

I love Roka. Each visit has surpassed the first. And the first was bloody good too! Love that black cod.

You've got to try their quail and also their teryaki salmon which puts all previous versions to shame.

You've got me wanting to go back again!

Lizzie said...

I don't believe that you don't like aubergine. It's my favourite vegetable! I WILL change your mind.

Helen said...

Well, you know how much I want to go here. Denied on my birthday as well - gutted! The only way I could be more jealous is if you went to The Ledbury..oh.

Chris said...

Browners: I can't believe it's taken me this long. I will be back very soon, and you're welcome to join me!

Lizzie: I know! I was as surprised as anyone. However, I can't believe YOU don't like sweet potato :)

Helen: Ah yeah, forgot about your birthday attempt. Maybe next year?

Martin said...

I used to live on Fitzroy St, which makes the fact I've never been even more ridiculous. I suppose I was a student, but still...

Sorry Lizzie, but I too Do Not Like Aubergine, much in the same way Chris came to his conclusion!

catty said...

Oooo i LOVE ROKA! I used to live up the street and have dinner there whenever I could actually afford it :) Great food though, and great atmosphere.

Ollie said...

Still not been to Roka but have heard many good things.

I know what you mean about aubergines. If you dice them quite finely they give decent, silky body to veggie pasta sauces. But, yeah, griddled aubergines - not worth it.

Kate said...

Like Martin, I used to live up the street but have never been! It's definitely moved a few places up the 'To Do' list thanks to your review.

As for aubergine, it's only good when it's smashed into baba ghanoush...

Browners said...

I can't believe the poor little aubergine is getting such a smashing. Each to their own. But a grilled/bbq'd/burnt aubergine is a thing of beauty.

Melanie said...

Those rabbit brains.... I don't think I could do it. Huge props to her.

This place looks lovely, Chris. Not to far from my office either!

canelvr said...

I've never tried black cod but this would be a good place to start, right? Or maybe I should go for lesser black cods and work up to this... Great recommendation all the same!

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

Roka is one of my favourites! Shame you didn't like the aubergine, which I haven't had there but it really depends on how it's prepared. The grilled dishes are the best and even simple asparagus skewers are amazing...

Gourmet Chick said...

An ice sculpture I love it! Tempted to head here for lunch today

Chris said...

canelvr: I think this is as good a black cod starting point as you're going to get. The one at Nobu is even more expensive.

Helen YLP: It's not that I just didn't like *this* aubergine, but the fact that this was a very competent dish and I didn't like it just reinforces my belief that I just don't like *any* aubergine.

Wine Splodge said...

hey Chris,

Don't miss the rabbit brains, we had them in El Buili a few years back and they're incredible. Also, if they offer them, rabbit kidneys are even better. There's also a restaurant in Barcelona where everything's grilled by stramge men in leather aprons- they do a half rabbit which comes with the split head intact and you scoop out the brains.... that was a bit hardcore right enough.
Enjoy El Buili, it's a hell of a trip!

Wine Splodge said...

it's true about the rabbit brains honest... even though I can't even spell el bulli!!

Anonymous said...

There a Shochu bar downstairs that serves food from the kitchen and haas jars full of Shochu that I think they make there. Well worth a visit for a cocktail or three.

jess said...

Interesting. never seen sashimi served on ice!

you should definitely submit some of your photos to www.donteatthatyet.com. their goal is to create a visual restaurant review site with a template similar to that of tastespotting.

Amanda said...

Ferran changes his menu every single week, so maybe the raw rabbit's brains will be swapped with... brains of another animal. hee hee!

Have you found a place to stay in September yet? You're going to have such a great time in Roses!