Friday, 2 May 2014

Roka Mayfair

Roka has been one of the titans of Japanese fine dining ever since chef Rainer Becker teamed up with businessman Arjun Waney. This restaurant is perceived to be more casual than Zuma, which is the first restaurant the duo collaborated on.
Roka has recently opened its new branch in North Audley Street/ Green Street on the 17th February. I was quite excited about this because the main restaurant in Charlotte Street was losing its touch. I had been going to the Charlotte Street branch for a few years now, and especially during 2013 there were a number of things which didn't impress me. The lag time involved between calling our waiter(s) and actually being served by our appointed waiter is way too long for such a fine dining restaurant. This along with forgetting to bring some of the dishes that we ordered, and then having to place the order again.

However, this new branch located right in the heart of Mayfair does send a bold statement out to all the other Japanese fine dining restaurants about the fact that the Roka brand is getting stronger each year.
The impressive interior has a simplistic yet effective design using a combination of natural resources such as wood, iron and oxidised copper. You can immediately tell that this interior is a step up from the branch in Charlotte Street which really does need to get renovated as the whole piping system can be seen as soon as one looks at the ceiling on the back end of the dining area. The Robata open-flame grill is placed right at the centre of the restaurant which captures the essence of the restaurant. This interior display reminds me a lot of the Keralan Nalukettu style of architecture whereby a four halls are joined together with an emphasis on the central courtyard open to the sky. However, replacing this open roof courtyard with the Robata grill. (Maybe, i've spent too much time in South India for holidays to make such a comparison!!)
For starters I ordered three portions of the legendary "Rock Shrimp Tempura". This dish has been created by Nobu and copied by every single fine dining Japanese restaurant in every major city in the world. Roka's version doesn't fail to impress as the spicy mayonnaise does compliment the deep fried battered shrimp. When one puts the first piece in their mouth an explosion of flavours from the tender shrimp, the egg yolks infused with rice vinegar in the mayonnaise, the chilli kick, and the crispiness of the tempura allows this dish to become a must order in this restaurant!  

The "Yakitori Negima" was up next and I couldn't help compare this dish with the Yakitori in Wagamama's (a restaurant which i do enjoy). It contains one skewer less (so i ordered two portions) and the spring onions were a bit too burnt too taste. I would definitely say the Wagamama's version is better, however given the fact that this dish at Roka is only £4.90 i'm going to stop the complaints now.

The "Gindara No Saiko-Yaki" which is the black cod miso, is another spectacular dish created by Nobu and plagiarised by all high end Japanese restaurants. Roka's version came with Hajikami sauce (A ginger pickled in vinegar). The cod half-wrapped in a pandan leaf has a very smooth and buttery texture and the Yuzu miso sauce was applied in perfect quantity to make this dish the stand out of the night. There was so much flavour that the Hajikami sauce was unnecessary.

Next was the selection of sushi, I ordered the "California Maki" which was ok. I much prefer Japanese restaurants using fresh crab as opposed to crabsticks, which i know Yo Sushi and a few middle range Japanese restaurants use. Green roe around the Sushi was a good asset. The "Muguro No Pirikara" was impressive with pieces of Tuna inside and outside the sushi roll with chilli flakes and parsley sprinkled on top.

Finally for dessert I was a bit sad to find out that they didn't have the Chocolate Buddha, which i was so accustomed to eating at Charlotte Street. So I picked the "Chocolate & Maccha Pudding with Jivera,  Pear Ice Cream". One would think this the Maccha would be in the outside with Chocolate sauce waiting to be ooze out of the inside, however Roka has flipped the script! It was actually the other way round, and I was impressed!

Roka has impressed me, its concept is flawless and the level of service at this restaurant compared with Charlotte Street is much better. I like the fact that they collaborated the oxidised copper interior design with plates that the dishes are carried on. What I was disappointed with was their flagship dessert of the Buddha not being available. I asked a waitress if they had it, and she looked at me as if I was trying to fool her into thinking that their was such a thing as a chocolate shaped Buddha dessert in the other branches of Roka.

The Verdict

Ambience - 7/10
Food - 7.5/10
Service - 8/10

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