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The raw and the cooked rock at Roka

Timothy Barber
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Roka
1st Floor, 4 Park Pavilion, 40 Canada Square, E14 5FW
FOOD *****
SERVICE ****
ATMOSPHERE ****

Cost per person without wine: £55

HAVE you ever been to Roka before?” asked our waiter, poised to take us through the Roka concept, as though this was the posh, pan-Asian equivalent of a Harvester. I regretted to say that I hadn’t. For a few years now, Roka on Charlotte Street in the West End has been one of the more fashionable places to enjoy sushi served on a banana leaf and the like, particularly if its Michelin-starred big brother, Zuma, or Nobu, the restaurant that begat this style of eating, are a bit out of your price range. It’s even spawned branches in Arizona and Hong Kong. Unfashionable as I probably am, Roka has remained an undiscovered realm for me, and the new Canary Wharf branch – where, let’s face it, the expense account dining means nothing is out of anyone’s price range – was my introduction to the Roka way of doing things.

Here’s how it works: order as many dishes as you or whoever’s paying can stump up for, plus a couple more (go on, you may as well), in whatever order you like, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

Okay, it can be a little more involved than that if you want – there’s a sushi/sashimi kitchen, a robata (traditional Japanese charcoal grill) kitchen, and a main kitchen that produces everything from rice hot pots and rock shrimp tempura to salads and soups. Dishes are for sharing, tapas-style, and you should aim to have a bit from all three sections. The two-person tasting menu is 10 dishes strong, or you could always do what we did, which is put yourself in the hands of your waiter and tuck into whatever cross-section they deliver. It’ll all be delicious.

Roka is on the first floor of the same glassy block that’s home to new branches of Wahaca and Canteen, and you access it by lift, entering via a long, sultry cocktail bar and a block of shelves packed with enormous jam jars containing different-coloured shochus, the Japanese spirit. Beyond these the low-ceilinged dining room stretches backwards like a glamorous military bunker, its walls and ceiling lined with wood perforated with holes, creating a feel of chic camouflage netting. There are lots of big, round tables suitable for client entertaining, all of which were packed and buzzing when we visited. On the right hand side, the open kitchen sends up sizzles, flames and smoky aromas that hang beautifully in the air.

Our opening dish – sea bass sashimi, thin strips curled on top of a row of miniscule baby asparagus and drizzled in a gentle citrus sauce – was so good I wanted to stand up and hug the person at the next table. The fish was languid and delicate in texture and taste, with the juice adding a bright little top hit that melted away as soon as it came. Avocado maki rolls were luscious, and prawns curled in spirals on a gleaming great brick of ice, alongside squares of sea bream sashimi, were sweetly succulent.

The table became crowded with beautifully-presented dishes. From the robata grill, lamb cutlets with Korean spices were gorgeous – charred and caramelised on the outside, oozing juice and smoky flavour on the inside. Highlights included skewers of perfectly-made kinoko garlic mushrooms, a chunk of miso-marinated black cod that fell into perfectly succulent flakes, and sweet potato mash served inside a parcel made from a dried bamboo leaf. We washed it all down with dry, aromatic sake and some sweet Aussie chardonnay, before enjoying various glasses of fruit-flavoured shochu as we worked our way through sorbets, fruit slices, a remarkable take on crème brulee and a chocolate pudding with a blue, liquid centre.

The service was bang on, each dish arriving on cue. The only annoyance was seeing the dishes arriving at other tables and wanting to try them too. I’ll just have to go back.

IN A NUTSHELL:
An exciting new option for dining in Canary Wharf, with a warm, buzzy atmosphere, three kitchens and superb Japanese/Asian food.