Fitzrovia, London

From its glorious robata grill to its clamshell-encased desserts, Roka is much more than a flash in the pan

Gifted with a roll call of restaurants ranging from playful Peruvian and modern French, to a restaurant dedicated entirely to gourmet hotdogs and champagne, Fitzrovia’s Charlotte Street reads like a DK encyclopaedia of global cuisine. Flying the flag for Japan, and occupying a prominent corner spot, is Roka (the firstborn of five London outposts), which has been serving up beautifully presented, confidently executed dishes for nearly 15 years.

Opened by German restaurateur Rainer Becker, following the success of his Knightsbridge restaurant Zuma, the Japanese stalwart, which celebrates its landmark anniversary this year, is suave, sleek and, by the end of our visit, seriously packed. After taking front-row seats at the robata grill – inspired by the fishermen of northern Japan who cook their catch on boats filled with charcoal – we try to scale down our order as we graze on chilli-laced edamame beans.

We plump for multiple portions of nigiri to start, followed by lightly battered morsels of shrimp popcorn, which are slightly tricky to navigate with chopsticks and more than once fall victim to the tangy chilli mayo that accompanies the bowl. We’re not complaining. Next, yellowtail sashimi soaked in a yuzu-truffle dressing dances across the tongue – no need for the punchy wasabi – followed by identical rows of unagi freshwater eel and a light prawn and avocado maki.

An obligatory portion of miso black cod cements its status as best in show. The cod’s buttery consistency isn’t overwhelmed by the sweet glaze, allowing the fresh fish to shine. The fact that it’s packed with omega-3 helps to justify the cost (a steep £37.60), in the hope it’ll provide enough brainpower to take on Jeremy Paxman, too. We finish off by gnawing a Jenga-stacked portion of Korean-spiced lamb chops – a Roka signature – down to the bone, before two spoons are handed to us with a knowing smile. Five desserts cocooned in an oversized clamshell appear in front of us. Immediately we claim we couldn’t possibly finish it all – a trio of exotic fruit sorbets, matcha chocolate fondant, peanut brittle, white chocolate parfait and a basket of fresh fruit, from nashi to papaya. Then of course do, because we are celebrating, after all.

Words by Fleur Rollet-Manus

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