Travels with a Gourmet

a food lover's travels, memorable meals, culinary trials and gastronomic experiences

One of my favorite London restaurants is trendy Zuma in Knightsbridge with it’s sleek interiors, good looking crowd and fantastic food. On this trip though, I wanted to try Zuma’s little sister, Roka in an up and coming area where many other hip, new restaurants line the streets.

We arrived for our table booking on time but since I requested to be seated at the bar where no reservations are taken, we decided to wait and have a drink downstairs at the dimly-lit Shochu Lounge. We had just chosen something to drink – some cold sake for me and a champagne cocktail with rose petals for T. After just one sip, we were led upstairs to the best seats at the bar on the corner so we could still talk to each other face to face and at the same time not miss any of the action from chefs hard at work on the robata (grill).

As the menu is quite large, we had a difficult time narrowing down our choices to a few dishes since we wanted to try so many things. While we were looking through the menu, we had some edamame (baby soybeans) with our drinks then ordered quite a feast.
We started with some raw fish: salmon and toro (fatty tuna) sashimi and two rolls: Age Watari Gani (soft-shell crab, cucumber, kimchi and chili mayonnaise) and Ebi No Tempura maki (crispy prawn, avocado, chili, chrysanthemums and dark sweet soy). We also had a salad of spinach leaves in a sesame dressing. The toro was fantastic, the soft-shell crab roll delicious and the spinach salad was presented in new way with the leaves piled one on top of another instead of the usual squashed in a box-shape way.
The next few dishes arrived one after another hot off the robata (grill): juicy chicken wings heightened in flavor with a spritz of lime juice and dipped in a bit of sea salt, sweet smoky ko nasu (eggplant in Mirin, ginger and soy) and simply-grilled tofu with chives. We also ordered the ubiquitous gin tara (black cod) marinated in yuzu miso (citrus and soybean paste) just to see how it compares with the one made famous at Nobu – quite similar but not one of my favorites. Other diners were looking at the many dishes crowding our very full corner and we did try our best but couldn’t finish it all in the end. We were so full we had to skip dessert although we did see some wonderful ice cream and fruit presentations in hollowed-out bamboos shared by most other diners.
When we finally left close to midnight, the restaurant was still more than half-full with a younger, more casual crowd than Zuma’s. We wandered up to the corner of Charlotte street and back, peeking into the very busy bar of the Charlotte Street Hotel and at other restaurants still filled with diners on that weekday evening. After a quick walk, we hopped into a cab and headed back to our hotel in Mayfair.
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Roka
37 Charlotte Street
London W1
Telephone: +44 020 7580 6464
Open daily for lunch and dinner
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