37 Charlotte Street London

Roka - 37 Charlotte Street London Reviewed by tytania on 29 October, 2012.

  Japanese Cuisine reigns supreme in my world. I am always excited to eat it and try out new spots. …

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Rating: 2


Japanese Cuisine reigns supreme in my world. I am always excited to eat it and try out new spots. I also don’t mind a little fusion in this area of flavor, after all Nobu spent a lot of time in South America, and his food is heavily influenced by this, and he is quite a world renowned chef. Korean Japanese works really well too; there are several spots like this in New York City. But there is something that happens when food is tailored around the likes and dislikes of a culture. It starts to go wrong. Like eating Indian in Milan, for example, it just doesn’t work because Italians only eat Italian food and certainly they don’t eat spice. Roka turns their Japanese fusion cuisine, which is already reaching out into unknown territories in terms of flavor combos to start with, into something for the mild palettes of the English. So sadly, the final result lacks edge, focus, and balance. The chef, Nicholas Watt, is really a great chef however. He worked with Nobu back in 1998, and has worked in Tokyo and in Australia, gaining lots of experience. He often appears on “Saturday Kitchen” and always prepares lovely quick Japanese dishes. My problem with the restaurant is it’s just watered down, and I know that is why it is so popular here. The robata grill of course makes everything taste brilliant however, and you cant say anything negative about this special addition. But there is a lot to be said in terms of customer service and creativity.

When we arrived, there were about 6 or 7 people crowded around the hostess station, waiting to be seated, with angry scowls on their faces. When we told the hostess we had a reservation, she told us the table was not ready and to have a drink in the bar downstairs. Fine. The bar is kind of cool, with some 80s Japanimation graphics on the wall and a huge list of Asian fusion sugary cocktails and a bit of scene. But after almost half an hour, we were seated, and we had adopted the angry scowl as well. Anemia started to creep into my mood, but I was still excited to finally have some good raw fish.

I ordered several appetizer type dishes to start. First off was the tuna tartare, which was almost pureed in texture, and served with a single tiny cracker that allowed for one bite, leaving the whole tartare left to eat in a mush on my plate. But it was very delicious in fact, and I ordered some salmon roe (Ikura) to put on top. It was my favorite dish of the evening, although it did resemble something my cat would dig into, and my date wouldn’t even try it. I also ordered the soft shell crab with a chili sauce. The soft shell crab was greasy, soggy, and cold. We ordered some sashimi, which was of great quality, but the pieces were cut very thickly on the salmon and yellowtail, so each mouthful was simply to much. Then strangely the freshwater eel (Unagi) was one small piece cut into three even smaller pieces.

The plating is rather beautiful however, and it certainly made you feel as if you were eating prime quality very smart Japanese food. I also tried the salmon tataki dish. This came with six very fatly sliced pieces of salmon, again, and with a strange sweet carrot mirin sauce. Tataki is always actually cooked in a very hot pan in seconds to cook the outside of the flesh, leaving the inside completely raw, and then sliced into pieces. But these salmon pieces were entirely raw. We also tried the butterfish sashimi, which tasted of excellent qaulity, but it seemed a bit soggy and watery from this weak strange sauce they had it marinating in.

After all this, you would think it would be enough, but the portion sizes are extremely small. So we decided to try the robata grilled miso sea bass, which was actually excellent. Burned crisp on the tips and very satisfying after a bunch of un-filling strange appetizers. My date also threw in a chicken skewer, which he devoured and said it was very tasty, but I think he was just hungry after all the teeny portions. I think the cooked food is actually a lot tastier than the raw here, and I wish we had tried more of the grilled dishes. I will go back and give it another go, but I will order robata.

I think what happens here is they get very caught up in being slick and smart, with focus on the food being second. But in London this often does work. The sauces were not well thought out and were overly sweet with no balance, and the prices are very high for the amount of food in each dish, considering there is little to no cooking in most of what we ordered. But they get away with it because it’s a cool place to be, it’s buzzing and sceney, and the English are not keen to complain. I think it’s a great place for a work group on a night out, with an expense account.

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