Roka

With a new branch in Mayfair opening its doors, Roka is once again the destination Japanese restaurant in town. The famed robata grill and seductive atmosphere has long been pleasing the customers, but after going to the original Roka on Charlotte Street a couple of weeks ago, I felt it was lacking in that slick, buzzing city atmosphere that you associate with restaurants like Zuma and Hakkasan. But with the Canary Wharf and now Mayfair restaurant open, they once again offer the full package, combining the consistently excellent food with an electric atmosphere. Of course you are going to pay for this, and it’s always a worrying sign when prices don’t appear on the menu on the website, but after a couple of cocktails you’ll soon be too caught up in the seductive charm of the place to care.

The Canary Wharf restaurant has the same beechwood decor and open kitchen, but with views of neighbouring skyscrapers and a much slicker crowd it has a much livelier feel than the Charlotte Street restaurant. It still retains its warmer and more laid back vibe than the likes of Hakkasan and Nobu, which are a little too much like a nightclub both in their darkness and by the little outfits most of the women there are wearing, for my liking. There’s everything you would expect to see on a top Japanese restaurant’s menu, but the real star of the show here comes from the robata grill, which licks everything it touches with a mouthwatering charred flavour. With three friends down for the weekend all wanting a wild night in the big city, Roka is the ideal destination to get the party started. I lost count of the amount of times we waved to the waiter to bring another plate of something.

The soft shell crab was the star of the small plates. There was plenty of it as well, a much more generous portion than I’d had at Nobu, and with that fiery chilli sauce it was incredibly moreish, which meant we ordered 4 of them.

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The yellowfin sashimi with truffle was sensational, with just the right amount of truffle to not overpower the freshness of the tuna. A less experienced restaurant would have doused the dish in truffle to give the impression of grandeur, but here they had the balance expertly gauged.

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The scallop skewers with wasbi and shiso were plump little things with a good hit of heat from the wasabi. They went down dangerously quickly.

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Then there was the ribs except without the bones, and these were perfectly tender chunks of meat in a delicious sauce with a sprinkle of cashews giving an added crunch. The bits that had charred and crisped up had almost a sweet caramel smokiness to them, and were absolutely delicious.

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The black cod is less exciting to me now because it is on the menu at all of these restaurants and there’s little variation from place to place. Marinated in yuzo miso it really is as juicy and tasty a piece of fish you are likely to try. The fish cuts like butter and has a texture like no other seafood you’ll try. It’s also the price of gold, so be sure to let the person you’re trying to impress know that when they are enjoying it melting on their tongue.

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The lamb cutlets coated in Korean spices were big juicy pieces of meat with plenty of charred fat that had melted down from the grill.

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The chicken skewers were incredibly succulent for chicken, and there was plenty of meat to get your teeth into. A few vegetables options included thick spears of grilled asparagus coated with sweet soy and sesame seeds, and a similar fried eggplant version that had a lovely sweetness to it.

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There wasn’t a dish that failed to impress, which should be the case when you consider that we were paying £100 a head (that included a good amount of drink though). But when you think that other restaurants of this type charge the same, if not higher prices, and have smaller portions and inferior cooking, then Roka certainly is worth it. It is also much less filled with posers and those who are desperate to catch a glimpse of a celeb, and because of this is has the feel of a real top London restaurant, making it the best high end Japanese restaurant (on a par with Zuma) in the city. So if you want the full package and don’t care what the bill at the end will say, then this is the place for you.

Food: 9.5/10

Service: 7/10

Atmosphere: 9/10 (Canary Wharf), 7/10 (Charlotte St)

Value: 6/10

Overall: 9/10

1st Floor, 4 Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, London E14 5FW

37 Charlotte Street, London W1T 1RR

30 North Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 6ZF

 

Roka Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon

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Bone Daddies vs. Tonkotsu: The Ramen Battle

There is no better cure for a hangover than a bowl of steaming ramen. It’s the Japanese Alka-Seltzer. I discovered this trawling through Soho on a miserable afternoon when my hopes for my normal remedy of a burger had been dashed by the hour minimum queues for Honest Burger and Burger & Lobster, and so I had ventured through the rather uninviting black front of Tonkotsu.

Inside the classic Soho run-down reigns. Anybody else getting bored of bare walls and dim industrial lights? Why is it so many of these places seem designed to get you in and out with as little comfort as possible. At least the food looked good.

The menu is simple- a few Gyoza, some basic Japanese sides and Ramen. I was in no mood for fiddly little dumplings, and so it was straight to the main event. Soon sitting in front of me was a steaming bowl of richly coloured broth. The smell and sight alone was enough to lift my spirits. Chopsticks and a wooden spoon were presented to me, but neither would really do for this dish. As Tonkotsu say on their website- ‘You’ll find that devouring your bowl of ramen using the traditional Japanese method of slurping will make it highly pleasurable experience’- and so this is exactly what I did. Food splashed all over my face and the table. It was lucky that I was eating alone. There’s something so satisfying about letting all manners disappear and going hell-for-leather at food. The slow-cooking has taken away the chore of chewing for you.  All it required of me was to simply slurp and swallow it up- ideal for any hangover when this is the limit of your capabilities.

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The pork belly and soft-boiled egg are all wonderful little additions, but there is no mistaking that the stock is star of the show. It is the type you will never make at home, and you would be stupid to even try it. Every bit of those pig bones has disintegrated to make this a creamy and intensely meaty juice. The house chilli sauce is also great, and a few heaped spoonfuls had the alcohol sweating out of me. I left Tonkotsu feeling not full and greasy as I would have done after a burger, but instead like I had just had both a sauna and a massage. Yours for £11.

Tonkotsu was the regular Saturday haunt for a while, and then Bone Daddies came along. This is a much hipper and more Soho version of a ramen joint. A large open window ensures that is brighter and with trendy music playing and a bustling hipster crowd this is for a different type of hangover. If Tonkotsu is designed to soothe and ease you into the afternoon, then Bone Daddies is the hair of the dog.

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Again I went for the tonkotsu ramen (£11). It is a much deeper orange than Tonkotsu and after loading it up with more chilli and sasme seeds from a fun little grinder that distributes most of the seeds to everywhere but your bowl, I tucked in. The flavour is intense. It’s the daddy of ramen. The effect it had one me was so warming that the only thing it is comparable to is having a cup of Bovril at half time during the match in the winter months. I doubt too many football stadiums will go to the lengths of cooking their stock for this length of time though. So good was this ramen that I found myself ordering a pint of Asahi midway through it. It had done it’s job.

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Both places dish up excellent ramen, and it’s likely I’ll split my time going between both. But Bone Daddies does just edge it.

Tonkotsu: 7/10

63 Dean St, London W1D 4QG

Bone Daddies: 8/10

31 Peter St, London W1F 0AR

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