What’s the best way to cure a Prosecco hangover fuelled by Japanese cooking the night before? Why indulge in more fizz and more miso of course! That’s exactly what I did the other weekend. After sampling one of the best Asian-fusion meals I’ve had at Clapham’s Mommi (a review to remember), I woke up with a slight bleary head and dismay at facing another few hours of booze and Asian flavours.
My usual hangover cure includes something wrapped in bacon, a large cuppa and a long afternoon snooze. However finally being forced to experience the hair of the dog, I was pleasantly surprised at how naturally I fell right back into sipping bubbles and stuffing sushi in my gob (okay I still had a nap).
I met my fellow ladies who brunch, Reena and Katie, for a midday meetup at Roka, Aldwych. Having finally got my hands on the sell out in seconds Timeout voucher, I was in high anticipation of the famous Asian brunch.
The restaurant opened at 12 on the dot and as the second table seated, we were intrigued by the quiet atmosphere. Give it 30 minutes and every single table was packed with budding brunch-ers. Apart from the irresistible lengthy menu, what makes Roka such a hit is their family friendly offerings. I’ve never sat in a restaurant nibbling on sashimi whilst across from me is a 6 year old dipping hers in soy sauce. Forget begging for a Happy Meal, this is where it’s at.
Our lunchtime event began with a fresh fruity mimosa, the true test of the hair of the dog theory. It went down very smoothly… I had passed the test. Next up it was time for the free pour. We each selected Prosecco, fancying a lighter lunch. But unlike most brunches, Roka offer white and red wine to their bottomless selection, even allowing you to mix and match to your dishes throughout.
Part one of the ‘Han Setto’ weekend brunch begins with a selection of ten dishes, a new one presented every 5-10 minutes until you end up with a buffet spread. In general this was my favourite bit of the brunch. I’m a greedy gal at heart so serving me a huge selection of quality dishes to try where I don’t even have to get up from my seat, was always going to make me happy. Especially when they are so, so delicious. Oh, and you can order seconds… and thirds.
To make this more exciting I’ve listed them in order from the best to the, well, one particular dish that didn’t do much for the palette.
1 | Kacbocha To Amaimo No Salada – Japanese Pumpkin And Sweet Potato Salad
Ermegah this was actual sweet creamy incredible-ness. The only salad part of this dish is that it was served cold. The rest was roughly mashed pumpkin and sweet potato, covered in crispy bacon, pumpkin seeds and chives. It was so good that we had to keep the bowl hostage from our waiters as we kept going back for just one more scoop. Note to Roka for the future – please serve with a spoon so we can scrap every teeny tiny morsel into our mouths.
2 | 3 Sashimi Selection – Chef’s Sashimi Selection
So beautifully presented, the Chef’s sashimi was as good as it looked, if not better.
3 | Simegi To Eringi No Salada – Mixed Mushroom Salad in Sesame Miso Dressing
This dressing was just UH. I’m guessing I’m a huge sesame miso fan because the bowl seemed to get closer and closer to my face as the brunch went on.
4 | Avocado To Gobo No Bubu Arare Maki – Avocado and Gobo Maki with Crispy Rice
Ooooo crispy rice covered maki! Like popping candy covered avocado, it was Roka’s very own version of a rice crispy treat.
5 | Chirashi To Kappa Maki – Spicy Mixed Sashimi with Cucumber and Asparagus
There were mixed feels to this portion of sushi due to its spicy tomato topping, strange at first but a twist I personally rather enjoyed.
6 | Kobuta To Ebi Gyoza – Pork and Prawn Dumplings
You’ve got to love a dumpling, particularly when filled with richly flavoured pork and prawn. Not together mind. That, I wouldn’t be so keen on.
7 | Edamame Salad With Ginger and Soy Dressing
Edamame is edamame really ain’t it. But it’s still bloody addictive even if one or two were strangely empty.
8 | Yaki Yassay To Saikyo Miso – Robata Vegetables with Sweet Yuzu Miso
So now we’re getting to the end of the ranking. I liked this dish don’t get me wrong. It just wasn’t spectacular.
9 | Tsukemono No Moriawase – Selection of Vegetable Pickles
I didn’t actually taste this dish due to my dislike of pickles although they were pretty to look therefore I popped it in at number 9.
10 | Tempura No Moriawase – Assorted Vegetable and Prawn Tempura
Now this was the only real big disappointment of the day. The batter was extremely greasy and well the prawn and assorted vegetables (pumpkin and asparagus) actually all tasted the same. Daaaaamn. And I was so looking forward to it.
Side note – can we just take a minute to appreciate the stunning range of crockery Roka use for their dishes? We almost became more excited about how the next would be presented rather than the food itself.
Ten tapas later it was time for main event. We each picked a plate from the Robata menu to share, beginning with kobuta no ribs yawaraka nikomiyaki, otherwise known as glazed baby back ribs with cashew nuts. Oh those ribs were grand, sticky and soft with a drizzle of lime and nutty topping.
Next came a mushroom and truffle hot pot, served in a large wooden pot stirred and served by our waiter. I think our expectations exceeded its flavours as although it was rich, warm and comforting, at the end of the day it was a mushroom risotto. All it needed was a sprinkle of herbs and bit of oomf and I’d have gone back in for seconds.
The last robata dish was a seam bream fillet, with ryotei miso and red onion. Opposite to its former, this plate surpassed our anticipation with a beautifully cooked piece of fish marinated in a sweet sticky miso sauce. Not one I would have normally ordered, I was pleasantly surprised by its depth of flavours.
Bubbles still flowing, we then looked forward to a little something sweet. Now Japanese dessert offerings can be a little, well how do I say it politely… boring? So much so that we brainstormed a backup plan for a cake around the corner. Expecting little more than a platter of fruit, we all squealed in surprise as an impressive bowl of sugary variety made its way to the table.
Our waiter kindly took us on a tour of the presentation. Three freshly homemade sorbets dribbled onto the fruit selection; lychee, raspberry and passion fruit. Next were two generous bowls of lychee panna cotta topped with crushed raspberries and a crunchy matcha crisp.
Alongside, a trio of tasty chocolate and yuzu truffles were each melt in the mouth lusciousness. However the main event was of course the chocolate mousse Buddha, a surprise fruity jelly inside with sobacha ice cream at his feet. It was an unexpected ending to our bottomless brunch and one that satisfied our sweet teeth.
Apart from one meh and one bleh, Roka’s famous Japanese brunch surpassed all of our expectations, or met them; I mean they were abnormally high. I would whole-heartedly return for just the food, at only £49 including a mimosa, it’s a hard price to beat for 10 unlimited tapas, a main dish each and an extraordinary dessert platter. With 3 other restaurants – and therefore 3 different menus – to try, I’ll unquestionably be booking myself in for round two.
This bottomless brunch definitely lives up to the hype. And long may it continue.