A Star Deal from Bookatable at Roka Aldwych:
I have friends who rave about Roka. Having not been to a single one of these Japanese restaurant (there are four in London; the original is in Charlotte Street, there’s another in Canary Wharf, one in Mayfair and the one I visited, Roka Aldwych) I was excited. I arrived early, handed my coat to the waiting reception staff and perched on a stool at the glamorous bar, dutifully sipping on a glass of water and waiting for The-Hedonist who I’d invited to join me. He’s spent a lot of time in Japan, originally when he was in a boy band that *happened* to have a number one single over there, more recently on holiday with his family this year. So, he was the obvious choice of guest to drag along and help critique the Bookatable special menu offer.
It’s tremendously good value. For £41 you get a glass of prosecco, several starters, a main course each and a dessert from the a la carte menu. And, the main course options are in no way budget deals – there’s black cod, beef fillet or lamb cutlets. An excellent way to try a range of Japanese dishes without needing an overdraft at the end of the month, though the latest reservation is at 6.30pm.
Once The-Hedonist had arrived we moved into the restaurant. After a little confusion (Roka has it’s own pre-theatre menu which is not the same as the bookatable star deal), we selected our main courses
Almost immediately the starters (mostly cold dishes) began to appear. First of all a pretty bowl of tiny mouthfuls of sashimi. We enjoyed it but thought it was unexceptional. It may simply have been that I missed the theatre – I enjoy seeing sashimi prepared in front of me, which of course we could have done at Roka had we asked to sit in front of the kitchen. Roka prides itself on a central robata grill, the dining room’s focal point. Or it may have been that dishes seemed to be arriving very quickly at this point.
By the time we’d started the sashimi, we had a salad and hot dumplings filled with black cod, crab and crayfish (gindara to kani no gyoza) on the table.
When the final starter, an avocado maki, arrived, we made a conscious effort to eat very slowly in an attempt to avoid feeling rushed.
Of the starters my personal favourite was the gyoza, plump and tender with a sweet sticky glaze. The salad (iceberg salada no wafu – which is apparently iceberg lettuce with a caramelised onion dressing) was fresh and tasty. The avocado maki was delicious if, like me, you love avocado. It dominated the maki and did make managing chopsticks tricky for an amateur like me.
Our strategy for slowing things down worked a little too well at this point. My beef arrived but the black cod ordered by the peskytarian Hedonist was missing. We asked and were told it would arrive soon. So, we waited, taking photos and chatting. After about 5 minutes I tried to get someone over to help…but all of a sudden the staff who had been very eager to bring our starters so quickly seemed to have vanished. Eventually, when I realised my beef was completely cold, we got the front of house manager over to help. At that point everything seemed to click into place. My beef was taken away as was the black cod which arrived at pretty much the same time as the beef departed.
Now, one way of judging whether a restaurant is up to scratch or not is to see how they deal with a (minor) crisis. Whilst in Asian restaurants it is fairly normal for dishes to arrive as they are cooked, we had told the restaurant that the Hedonist didn’t eat meat, both when we booked and when we arrived. The staff agreed that as such, our mains should have been brought out at the same time. They apologised and comp’d us the sake we were enjoying. The beef when it arrived again, was piping hot, beautifully cooked and immaculately seasoned.
The black cod was, perhaps, a little well done. But, the last time I tried miso black cod it was cooked to order for me by Druv Baker, so again, perhaps I am just a bit spoilt. And what a pretty presentation here.
Another flask of sake on, we ordered our dessert. For me dark chocolate & green tea pudding with crunchy jivara, pear ice cream , which turned out to be utterly delicious and really quite unusual. Cut into the delicious dark chocolate sponge to reveal a puddle of matcha sauce.
The Hedonist had peanut, vanilla & chocolate sundae poki sticks & banana tempura which was a little less spectacular to look at, but seemed to disappear quickly enough all the same.
All in, Roka was a very good experience – it missed excellence for me on this occasion because of service glitches. I loved the fact that there was absolutely no compromise on quality of ingredients.
The Bookatable Star Deal £41 menu really does offer great value and, for that price you get a meal that leaves you replete. Service when we visited was patchy, though once we’d pointed out our issues, things went a lot more smoothly. I suspect it might have been in part down to timing – two days before Christmas, when London is packed with large groups and parties.
Obviously I just need to go back at a more sensible time of year!
Disclaimer: I dined as a guest of bookatable.