ROKA Hard

[Full disclosure: This was a birthday gift from my sister and back-up organ donor, Dangles Del Monte, and her Mancake who is in the business. If it had been a can of expired cat food with a candle in it, I would have high-fived the waiter. They went one better.]

I’ve long extolled the many virtues of Japanese cuisine (here, here, here and here). Bear in mind that this a cuisine that puts two fingers up at dairy. A cuisine without cheese. And yet I revere it and, yes, count it above any other. So you can imagine how open-minded I am about Japanese-fusion cuisine. I am as excited about Japanese-fusion as a teenage pageant contestant is about getting stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump. I freely confess, I’m set in my ways. I like my sushi fresh; my tempura dipping sauce to come with mashed daikon for me to mix in; and my gyoza dipping sauce created by me and not served. Why spoil perfection?

I would eat my words if there was any room left. ROKA mixes the traditional with the experimental, simplicity with complexity and two other contrasting abstract nouns. You know you’re quids in when there is an Italian Sake Sommelier. That happens to be my favourite professional hybrid. The restaurant manager welcomed us personally and we kicked off with fizz before eagerly handing menu-selection duties off to the experts. As dish after dish satisfied and intrigued, the buzzing atmos was punctuated with rounds of shouts from the cooks, a comforting nod to tradition. The staff:customer ratio must be something like 1:2. They were relentlessly attentive. They would have considered the band on the Titanic shirkers as they served disgestifs to the 1st class passengers boarding their lifeboats.

I’ll let the pictures+captions speak about the food, but special mention must be made of the shrimp tempura. Mrs Del Monte liked it a lot. I mean really a lot. A humbling amount. No matter how hard I’ve tried over the years, I’ve not come close to replicating that expression on her face. I felt like the cuckhold having to applaud the interloper.

The dessert was preposterous. It was like splicing the final ten minutes of Dumb and Dumber on the end of the Godfather. Both great films, but not something you’d expect to see abutting one another.

ROKA is the business. If you’re looking to seal the deal with a prospective mate, take him/her/it there. Unless they work there. I’d imagine it would be somewhat of a busman’s holiday. It might seem an obvious point, but if you’re reduced to taking advice from a man who can’t compete with tempura, then perhaps it’s worth my belabouring it.

ROKA!

Menu says: “Yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing.” If you’re wondering how the truffle flavour doesn’t dominate the yellowtail then you probably need to go order it as I can’t explain it.

This is salmon sashimi with sweet potato crisps. Fun fact: The Japanese for “amuse-bouche” literally translates to “happy funtime minute up your proboscis.”

Sashimi moriawase. I’m a sucker for sashimi. And low cut tops. But this sashimi was phenomenal. Really authentic.

Azure sake from my old stomping ground, Chiba. It was smooth, delicate and gave me an awesome buzz.

Menu says: “Age watari gani maki” which I believe is the softshell crab. I love the crunch of softshell crab in maki.

“Gindara to kani no gyoza” / “black cod, crab and crayfish dumplings.” I take a hard line when it comes to gyoza. When a so called Japanese restaurant offers chicken gyoza then I know I’m in for a disappointing time. Which is what Mrs Del Monte feels when I do my stretches I hear. These were terrific and there was a dash of lime in there which instantly made me feel like I was on holiday.

“Ebi no tempura” / “Rock shrimp tempura with chilli mayonnaise” – possibly the highlight. The shrimp melted indecently. When I return to ROKA I shall give them the instruction “keep bringing me the Ebi tempura until both the waiter and I are crying.”

“Gindara no saikyo-yaki” / “Black cod marinated in yuzu miso” and “Yaki asparagus / asparagus with sweet soy and sesame.” The black cod was lightly caramelised on the outside and tender on the inside (much like myself). The asparagus took me back to Piss Alley in Shinjuku. I was instantly transported to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where grilling asparagus is the exclusive focus of generations of artisans. Chapeau, ROKA.

“Tokujou wagyu to kinoko” / “Pure breed japanese wagyu A4.” Cooked medium rare. This is about when the stitch started to kick in. But I pushed on through.

“Kankoku fu kohitsuji” / “Lamb cutlets with korean spices.” Those Koreans are so awesome at BBQ even their phones catch aflame. That would’ve been an blistering zing last year when those Samsungs were catching fire. Topical!

ROKA dessert platter. Look at that thing! Sorbets, fruits, mousses, cakes like a pudding melee attack in GTA V. When Japanese men come out to their fathers, this is the dish they order. “Akira-kun, you’re my son and I love you. Your mother and I always knew. But you have shamed me with this flamboyant dessertgasm.”

ROKA
37 Charlotte St
Fitzrovia
London
W1T 1RR
Tel: 020 7580 6464
https://www.rokarestaurant.com/roka-charlotte-street

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2 comments

  1. What a yummilicious treat! :-)
    Wishing you a fabulous Sunday,
    The Fab Four of Cley,
    Dina

    1. Many thanks – you too!

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