Roka is one of my local restaurants where I pay a yearly visit (to update myself with the menu) but it will never make it into my favourite list. Sister to the very high end Zuma of Knightsbridge, this smart venue offers pretty much a replicable experience (or not?). Inventive Japanese cuisine. Izakaya-style restaurant. Here food is served on the ground floor and drinks at exclusive Shochu Lounge downstairs. Massive rotaba grill station as the restaurant’s centrepiece. The crowd isn’t usually as rich as Zuma.. well, West End folk (please read with a condescendingly low voice).
I love Zuma and while I won’t seek to compare dishes, I can’t help to compare my level of satisfaction that derives from food and value for money at both restaurants. Zuma and Roka do dishes that verge on being too nibble-y. Small. Chic. At times mind-blowingly delicious. At all time expensive. If you have money to splash occasionally, they are both very good restaurants.
Two pieces of Botan Ebi with Caviar came to £13.80. Super fresh and enjoyable. Not the most reasonably priced. You can pay £8 for two (without the caviar and the ambiance) at Shiori down the road. Fatty Tuna and Half Fatty Tuna Nigiri (O Toro and Chu Toro, respectively £9.60 and £8.60 per pair) were as big as a fat man’s pinky. Rice was perfectly seasoned. Fish perfectly luscious. But the portion led to satisfaction utterly un-climaxed. The real star was this Soft Shell Crab Roll with Kimchi and Chilli Mayonnaise (£8.60). Texture perfect. Delectably fried soft shell crab with its flavour balanced off by crunchy cucumber slices. The beautiful spread of Kimchi and Chilli mayo was piquant. Fiery with pickle-y acidity. Would have clicked “like” if on Facebook..
Bigger in proportion was this plate of Black Cod, Crab & Crayfish Dumplings, Roasted Chilli & Ponzu Dressing (£12.60). Triangular dumplings were fried on one side for a crispy effect. Unfortunately neither of them were crispy enough. The filling of seafood medley was generous but lacked X-factor seasoning to bind them together, while smoky chilli did not make a long-loved friend with refreshing ponzu dressing.
Wagyu Teriyaki with Pickled Japanese Mushrooms (£30.30) was steeply sweet and would benefit from less of the soy glazing. I found it hard to eat without rice to take away the richness. The cut of meat here was flank. Less greasy and less marbled. But it was still very tenderised and a pleasure to sink my teeth in. Grilled Scallops (£10.90) despite them being plump and perfectly juicy were underwhelming. The creamy wasabi dressing and scattered shiso leaves did not much enhance the beauty of the scallops in the way the plum dressing at Zuma did. Pleasant but no WOW, so to speak. Lamb Cutlets with Korean Spices (£21.90) were immense. Spiced rubbed and grilled to achieve a near-caramelised effect. “To-die-for” softness for the meat. Kimchi-like dipping sauce added much dimension. Batons of cucumbers with sesame dressing, however, were odd accompaniments. Too sweet, they cooled down the palate but left too heavy aftertaste. Fresh cucumber would fare better. All that said, the price was thoroughly justifiable.
Throughout the meal, I was content. There wasn’t much I dislike. Dishes delivered flavours – good ones – but there was a ceiling to it. The portion size very often didn’t justify the price. Too small to fill me (and probably you too!) up. The best dish – the lamb cutlets- was almost WOW. But..
.. that’s about it.
Roka’s good and things. Chic place. My wallet felt heavily nibbled at the end. The bill came short of £160 including two drinks, two rice and one still water. I won’t discourage you from trying Roka. But I’d rather you pay extra quid and hail a bus to Zuma where I had orgasms in my mouth!
… mmm that did not come out right .. (spit)..
My head rating says, “7.5 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.
37 Charlotte Street
Tel. 020 7580 6464