Roka, serving modern contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine. Tongues were wagging when it stretched its legs to Canary Wharf. Being a Japanese cuisine fan, I was eagerly anticipating its opening. Then came news from a friend who tried the tasting menu and shook his head. That, and the slightly higher prices it charges has stopped me at its gate since.
It finally took a catch up session with friends months later when I find myself finally passing those gates. We went the non-tasting menu option this time and roped in the same ‘friend’ for comparison measure.
Maguro no tataki (tuna tataki with apple mustard dressing)
First came the Tuna Tataki, nicely plated and a good visual introduction for the senses. A very light and refreshing dish, a ball of slivered daikon radish which cleanses your palate and whet your appetite. The tuna unfortunately, being of a subtle flavour in its raw form was overpowered by the daikon and the apple mustard dressing. The only part that the pitiful protein tuna got to play was in the texture, springiness of the daikon vs soft almost creamy tuna. Perhaps if the tuna was sliced thicker or less daikon used?
Age Watari Gani To Mizuna (crisp soft shell crab with daikon and shiso mayonnaise)
Umami-dense soft shell crab. A slight twist on the ones that I am used to in Sydney. This is fried in a very thin batter. Spare yourself the shiso mayonnaise unless you like things creamy.
Our sushi selection plate came next.
Sake To Avocado Maki (raw salmon, avocado, asparagus, wasabi tobiko and tenkatsu) L
Ebi No Tempura Maki (crispy prawn, avocado, chilli, chrysanthemums and dark sweet soy) R
Me and the other female dining companion love trying dishes that are different and intriguing. Wondering how having chysanthemums in a sushi would be like, was quite disappointed that it only came in the form of sprinklings on the sushi itself. Did not do anything for me at all and this was just a normal crispy prawn sushi.
The Sake To Avocado Maki was also quite ordinary although of a good standard. I take it that we should focused on their Robataki dishes instead.
Shishitou (grilled shishtou peppers with sancho salt)
Even the waiter could not quite described this to us when we asked for a description. We only managed to extract that it is similar to Jalapeno peppers. This was quite a disappointment, no spiciness as what we were hoping akin to Jalapeno peppers. Crunchiness gone as it has been grilled, this was just tiny tasteless little lumps of vegetables. I can see it being enjoyed with beer though but that is for an entirely different setting!
Kinoko (field mushrooms with Yuzu kosho mayonnaise)
Delicate and in bite-sized portions. I was instantly won over by its presentation alone. I really enjoyed this one. Juices bursting from the mushroom to envelope your tastebuds in umami-rich flavour and the Yuzu kosho mayonnaise only heightens the pleasure.
Tori No Kamameshi (rice hot pot of crispy soy chicken and shiitake mushroom)
This is akin to an oriental version of risotto as mentioned by the other female dining party. This is a winner! Although the soy chicken was not very crispy anymore but the essence from the combination of flavours being absorbed into the rice is just magic.
I was happy and satisfied and full by this stage but nooo….was made to continue when my dinner party insisted on ordering more dishes as they were still hungry. WHAT??
Clockwise from left: Sesame and honey chicken wings
Kobuta No Ribs Yawaraka Nikomi (Baby back ribs glazed with a spiced master stock and cashew nut)
Yakitori Negima (chicken skewers with spring onion)
Koika No Kara Age (Fried baby squid, shichimi and lime)
3 Robata based dishes and 1 fried later, were these good? Yes and No. Yes that they were still tasty but No in that I was expecting some smokiness and charred flavours which is what makes a good grilled meat but this was absent and replaced with rich glaze sauce which is not the same.
Finally, we were on to dessert!
Roasted pineapple and sake “baba”, black rice coconut ice cream
I have to say that our waiter is very good, while we struggle to name our dishes when ordering, they roll smoothly off his tongue with ease. Took it as a sign that ample training was given. It then came as a slight surprise when we asked what “baba” was and was told that it is just a name, not any part of the dessert.
When the roasted pineapple and sake baba came, I am convinced that the round dough holding the pineapples must be the “baba”. The “baba” is definitely soaked in sake which went down well with the dining party, we love it! The ice cream itself did not add any significance and was bland.
Sobacha crème brulee, ginger ice cream
Not a fan of this one and being a ginger fan, wish that the ginger taste was stronger in the ice cream.
I think that Roka has a great vibe, it is definitely an option to consider when you want to have a good time out. The food may be not the best and so goes with the price, but the décor, surroundings, staff all lends itself to creating that atmosphere where you can enjoy the experience. Each dish comes out and is re-described to us yet it is done in the most unobtrusive way.
If £££ is not an issue and you have at least a medium sized party to share the food around, Roka is a choice to consider. Opting for the A La Carte menu may be the way to go as commented by my friend who tried both.
1st Floor, 4 Park Pavillion,
40 Canada Sq,
Poplar, E14 5
Tel : 02076355228