Brunch is perhaps my favourite meal of the week. It isn’t a big, indigestible breakfast with the prospect of needing a nap by 10.30 (although I can be tempted by an English fry-up at almost any time). It’s not a dinner, when one might be exhausted from the exertions of the day and much prefer Marmite on toast, a cuppa and an early night. This is Sunday Brunch and it is perfectly timed, and something over which to linger.
Aldwych has the attraction of good restaurants and theatres. Its transport connections are excellent, being within a short distance of Covent Garden as well as Temple and Embankment Underground stations. It’s the ideal spot to start a Sunday of unique shopping opportunities, tourism and food.
ROKA Aldwych is the fourth ROKA to open in London and it marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of the flagship of the restaurant group, on Charlotte Street. This restaurant shouts understated class. One is aware on arrival that this is going to be a rather impressive establishment. The swish of the two sets of automatic glass doors hints at exclusivity.
I have not, as yet, visited the other ROKAs but this one is striking. There is a central open kitchen with its usual counter seating but then there are regular tables with generous spacing between. Although there are no outside windows in the main restaurant, the height of the ceiling and the lighting create an airy and spacious dining room that is welcoming to parties as well as couples.
The grey timber walls offer a neutral and natural backdrop to the activity of this vibrant restaurant. It presents a very subtly Japanese note to this not overly-themed restaurant, but the food is indeed contemporary Japanese, based on tradition. ROKA takes the diner away from the ubiquitous sushi (although that’s on the menu) and into the broader realm of real Japanese food.
The word ROKA is the Japanese name for a meeting place where food and drinks are served to friends (ro) with heat and warmth (ka). The Sunday Brunch for me and my companion included both hot and cold dishes from the regular menu, and main dishes from the robata grill: this method originates from the fishermen of the northern coastal waters off Japan, who would cook the catch on their boats.
The Brunch menu is divided in two with all of the starters included, and then one has the choice of main courses, so we started our culinary adventure with edamame salad with ginger and soy dressing. These beans are light and just right as part of a starter selection, or even alone with drinks before a meal.
Otsukemono no Moriawase are an array vegetable pickles which are so popular in Japan, with each family having their own favourite recipes …when they don’t buy them from the store, that is.
Horenso no Ingin Salada was an absolute delight and I am stealing this simple idea for myself. It’s baby spinach leaves with a light sesame dressing made with tahini, dashi stock and sesame seeds.
Tempura Moriawase is assorted tempura in some of the best batter you will find in London. The seafood and vegetables were all cooked to perfection in a crunchy coating that was practically greaseless. Just a little spicy sauce was all that was needed by way of condiment.
Jagaimo to Tamago Salada was a real surprise and might fall into the category of Japanese comfort food. It was a mashed potato salad with bacon and egg and was moreish and, strangely, this did work with the more traditional starters that included beautifully presented sashimi, and sushi in the guise of the outstanding crispy prawn and avocado maki, and others. The Gyuniku to Goma no Gyoza are a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings. These were stuffed with beef and ginger and were tangy and fresh.
Hinadori no Miso Yaki was my guest’s choice of main course. This is grilled baby chicken with lemon, miso, garlic and soy. The chicken was served atop a traditional table-top grill although this wasn’t the cooking implement – the grilling had been done back in the kitchen. It did make a striking presentation for one of the best chicken dishes I have had in ages. It’s a must-try here.
Gyuhireniku no Pirikara Yakiniku is another worthy dish for meat-eaters. This was a considerable serving of tender beef sirloin with a little chilli and spring onions. Granted, it’s not overtly Japanese but it fitted admirably with all the other dishes.
Then there was dessert. It was the ROKA dessert platter. I have had dessert platters before so was just about getting my coat on when it arrived. There has got to be a better name than ROKA dessert platter. Yes, OK, it was dessert and it was served on a platter but this was an extraordinary sweet confection of chocolate, sorbet, ice cream …and some fruit to make the diner feel noble even after some outstanding truffles.
ROKA ticked all my previously pencilled-in boxes and added a few more. It’s a matter of taste, for sure, but ROKA was very much my taste. My taste for hot Japanese food. My taste for thoughtful design. My taste for relaxing afternoon ambiance. I can highly recommend this Brunch. It’s worth waiting six days for.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7294 7636
Visit ROKA Aldwych here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018