Restaurant review: Roka Aldwych, WC2

Roka's open kitchen was a sight to behold Pic: Richard Southall/Agi Ch

Roka's open kitchen was a sight to behold Pic: Richard Southall/Agi Ch - Credit: Archant

Top Japanese dining is worth the expense

Sashimi the way it should be done Pic: John Carey

Sashimi the way it should be done Pic: John Carey - Credit: Archant

Having heard a plethora of tributes to the Roka empire and their particular brand of robatayaki (open grill) cooking over the years, I always felt rather left out at not having managed to go myself.

Whenever a conversation with pals turned to Japanese food, and with crushing inevitability towards how great Roka is, I’d always turn my face away and mumble something about ‘not having got round to it yet’.

So imagine my joy when they opened a new branch in Aldwych, affording me the perfect opportunity to head down and fill that culinary void.

It’s sleek, dark and sophisticated, although the general vibe struck me as a touch on corporate side - both in decor and atmosphere. It’s definitely the sort of place you’d take clients on expenses, if you’re in that sort of game.

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We were welcomed with a flourish, and quick as a flash had imbibed a couple a devilishly strong fruity numbers (the rose petal martini particularly impressed the wife) before being led to our table. It was a stunner; slap bang in front of the open kitchen.

Watching the chefs at work slicing, dicing and lovingly-preparing all sorts of crazy raw and grilled dishes was captivating. There was certainly no glancing at the old mobile phone during quiet moments, transfixed as we were by the lively kitchen team.

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Indulgently, we went for the premium tasting menu, which was not cheap. Although, astoundingly, at £79 a head, it’s probably better value than ordering a la carte.

But, in any case, it was how a meal should be – long, luxurious, full of surprises and paired with an inspiring array of wines (or, in some cases, saki).

Things kicked off in fantastic style with wafer thin slices of raw tuna drizzled in heady, intoxicating truffle oil. A masterful sashimi platter followed; green tea infused scallops, creamy salmon, chunky tuna, prawns topped with caviar – you get the idea. All of it so fresh it nearly swam off the plate. Things continued in this lip-smacking vein, with marinated black cod, followed by slivers of medium rare wagyu beef, slightly marbled and dripping with flavour.

Other highlights included intense smokey duck slices with an almost piney, autumnal flavour; and succulent, spiced lamb cutlets and scallop skewers, dripping in prickly wasabi. Even the dessert platter was good – as well as looking like Carmen Miranda’s hat.

All the while, the enormous front of house team kept things flowing with quiet efficiency; the dozen or so courses appeared and disappeared with ease and our glasses were permanently topped up.

The whole experience was a bewitching whirwind of tastes, smells and sights. It’s an expensive evening, but its good. Very good. If you can stretch to it, you owe it to yourself to find a special occasion to go.

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