Roka is full-on ritzy and glamorous, serving high-end Japanese robatayaki contemporary cooking with many dishes prepared at the huge robata grill where guests can sit at the large wooden counter and marvel at the dazzling preparation and people watch. Roka, sibling to Zuma, unsurprisingly has a star-studded following welcoming everyone from Amal Clooney to Angelina Jolie. Charlotte Street is the original flagship and still the branch with the most charm and the most in demand for reservations. What’s more, it has the chic, buzzy Shoshu bar below serving innovative cocktails, many made with the vodka-like Japanese spirit after which it is named.
The menu is vast and eclectic ranging from sashimi showily presented on ice and zingy fresh, impeccable sushi and tempura: the rock shrimp tempura with ethereal batter is outstanding. Yellowtail sashimi generously marinated in truffle yuzu dressing is incredibly inviting and moreish. The charred black cod – a must order – with yuzu miso has a memorable delicate, buttery flavour. Among grills, both salmon teriyaki and the most succulent Korean spice encrusted, pink and charred lamb chops vie for attention. The Roka rice hotpot with king crab, rather like an Asian risotto, is cooked in a traditional Japanese cast-iron pot with a chunky wooden lid and a wooden spoon resting on top. The theatrical ritual of the waiter stirring the glistening rice at the table all adds to the sense of occasion and delicious anticipation of a joyous, intensely savoury dish. Do involve the hugely knowledgeable staff as they will happily recommend choices to give a balanced sample of their greatest hits or first timers may prefer to opt for a tasting menu.
A vital ingredient of Roka’s success is the intriguing dessert menu. Try raspberry, lychee, chocolate and rosewater with crème anglaise. Roka may be a comparative veteran on the Asian dining in London scene now, yet remains one of the most thrilling.