[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.
37 Charlotte St
Tel: 020 7580 6464