Restaurant Review: Roka

Modern Japanese food in the heart of Fitzrovia has Carole Hamilton busting her budget and enjoying every mouthful.

The Charlotte Street branch of Roka is one of four in London and, as the location of my first blind date with my husband of two years, is a personal favourite. I have no idea whether it was down to the amazing food or my dazzling repartee, but he says he fell in love with me that very evening – so thanks, Roka!

The venue

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This particular branch is always busy, and its loud, lively atmosphere is all part of the fun. The subterranean and rather sexy Shochu lounge is a great place to enjoy a fiery shochu infusion before taking your table in the main restaurant. ‘Roka’ literally means ‘a meeting place where you share food with friends and heat’ and, accordingly, much of the action takes place at the open, central robata grill where a repertoire of contemporary izakaya- inspired food is created. Ask for a table at the counter – made from beautiful, extremely tactile Japanese wood – and sit back and prepare to enjoy the show.

Food and drink 

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The long menu can prove confusing for newcomers to this style of food, so take steer from the charming, well-informed staff. I can’t pretend that Roka isn’t expensive, and it’s easy to rack up a hefty bill if you get carried away. My advice? Keep the menu close to hand and order more if you need it. Speedy service means you never have to wait long for another plate or two to appear.

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The tasting menu is always popular with first-time diners, incorporating the best Roka has to offer. Ours starts with a sea bass with pickled daikon, and yellowtail sashimi with truffle dressing. A sashimi platter comes elegantly presented over crushed ice, including awesome tuna with spring onions to be scooped on to crisp, black bread.

We smile our way through seared beef and Wagyu sushi with Oscietra caviar, and scallop skewers with a wasabi kick. The black cod is as good as any I’ve had anywhere in the world – even in Japan – and diminutive Korean- spiced lamb cutlets are delicious.

A dessert platter featuring an impressive display of fruits and sorbets hits just the right note after all those different flavours. Although there’s a strong wine list here, I urge you to try Roka’s own sake. The tiny glasses of chilled firewater offer a wonderful accompaniment to the food.

The verdict
I will always have a soft spot for Roka, but even without my romantic connection, it would be a favourite. Japanese food never comes cheap, and this is no exception, but the execution is faultless.

Where: 37 Charlotte St, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1RR.
Bookings: To make a reservation, phone 020 7580 6464 or click here.
Cost: Tasting menu, £176 for two without drinks.

PLUS: For more restaurant reviews, order the latest issue of Good Things.

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