Roka – Aldwych, London

Photos and words by A Girl has to Eat and myself.

The chain of Roka restaurants offer a unique style of contemporary Japanese robatayaki cuisine, a cooking method where items of food are slowly grilled over hot charcoal. The original branch of Roka opened on Charlotte Street to much success and subsequent branches followed in Canary Wharf, Mayfair and on Aldwych. But the menu extends beyond just robata dishes. There is also a delectable selection of sashimi and nigiri, fried options including tempura, snacks, soups and rice dishes such as hot pots with lobster and miso butter.

We visited Roka Aldwych which opened last November. Designed by Claudio Silvestrin who was also responsible for L’anima and Alan Yau’s Princi on Wardour Street, the restaurant is spacious and grand with a sleek, contemporary minimalist look, a style for which Silvestrin is well known. Like all the other Rokas, the robata grill plays centre stage at Roka Aldwych, and in addition to the tables in the main dining room, guests can also eat in the lounge area and at the robata bar.

yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing

We started with the yellowtail sashimi with truffle yuzu dressing, mizuna and pickled vegetables (£14.60), and the spectacular scent of truffle immediately caught our attention when the dish arrived at our table. This dish was pure perfection. The quality of the fish and the balance of the truffle yuzu dressing was absolutely flawless. It was an exquisite dish and we enjoyed it immensely. If you only order one thing at Roka Aldwych, this has to be it.

5 piece sashimi selection

We followed this with the 5-piece sashimi selection and the tuna tartare. The sashimi included salmon, tuna, sea bream, yellow tail and sweet shrimp (£26.60) and was delectable. The quality, taste and texture of the sashimi were sublime, and the fish was unquestionably of the highest grade.

tuna tartare with oscietra caviar & quail egg yolk

The tuna tartare with oscietra caviar and quail egg yolk (£12.60) was a clever spin on a French favourite. The French tradition was not lost as we ceremoniously combined fish with the egg and caviar to enjoy the tartare in its entirety. This was served with a lovely piece of crunchy crispbread which added contrast. Again, this was as marvellous as the previous dishes.

seared beef striploin with black truffle dressing, cucumber, daikon pickle and miso tapioca

From the tataki section, the seared beef striploin with black truffle dressing, cucumber, daikon pickle and miso tapioca crisp (£13.00) was another enjoyable dish. The beef was wonderfully tender and tasty, although the black truffle dressing was not as aromatic as that of the truffle ponzu dressing in the yellowtail sashimi dish.

rock shrimp tempura wasabi pea seasoning and chilli mayonnaise

The rock shrimp tempura with wasabi pea seasoning and chilli mayonnaise (£14.30) came with rock shrimp that was sweet and plump. As for the batter, it wasn’t a traditional tempura batter, but it was very enjoyable nevertheless as it was light and crispy. This was a tasty modern recreation of a traditional favourite with a solid dipping sauce.

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Japanese Supper Club hosted by Luiz Hara, The London Foodie

Iberian Pork Cheeks, Daikon, Foie Gras, Slow-Cooked in Soy Sauce, Sake, Brown Sugar and Ginger

As supper clubs go, Luiz Hara’s Japanese Supper Club is considered one of the most notorious within London’s underground food scene. The Brazilian born half Japanese ex-investment banker aka The London Foodie, introduces a culinary experience like no other and showcases that the possibilities of Japanese home-style cooking are truly infinite. Luiz turned his back on corporate banking by risking it all to pursue his real passion in food that led him straight to this wonderful endeavour.

Take his training in Tokyo in Japanese cuisine and throw in his Grand Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Then consider his custom-built supper club basement kitchen, swanky Islington pad and you have yourself an unorthodox recipe for culinary success. Think of Luiz’s supper club as restaurant quality dishes that can go head to head with London’s best, all in the comfort of his gorgeous home. But be prepared for some serious verbal discourse because you’ll be seated intimately at a long dining communal table with some perfectly good strangers.

All this for the nominal price of £45. Well, what are you waiting for?

Tuna Tartare - Tuna & Avocado, Hand chopped Tuna with Spring Onions & Soy Sauce on Shiso-flavoured Sushi Rice, Wasabi Cream

Things are off to a whopping good start with the tuna & avocado, shiso flavoured sushi rice & wasabi cream. It’s fresh, delectable and gloriously spectacular with the delicious wasabi cream elegantly drooling to one side. The shiso sushi rice shows us what good sushi rice is really made of. It is cooked to perfection, holds the right amount of stickiness, savouriness and a hint of sweetness. The combination of flavours are so spectacular, it is already the hot favourite of the night.

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Shoryu Ramen – Soho, London

Shoryu Ramen was launched in November 2012 by the team at Japan Centre and Shoryu have quickly gained a following for their ramen. They now have locations spread across Carnaby, Regent St and Soho. If ramen wasn’t enough, they also dish up the very popular hirata buns, sushi, sashimi and yakitori as part of their sides menu. Recommended in the Michelin Guide 2014 and 2015, Shoryu have come head to head with the likes of Bone Daddies and Tonkostu Ramen. These are the three amigos that are dominating the Soho food scene with their ramen. What makes Shoryu really special is that they specialise in the Hakata style tonkotsu ramen from the Hakata district of Fukuoka city of Japan. They promise that this is a bonafide tonkotsu ramen which you will rarely find outside of Japan. Thanks to Executive Chef Kanji Furukawa, who was born and raised from the region. Londoners can now enjoy the Hakata style ramen made with a thick, rich, white pork soup and thin, straight ramen noodles. This style of ramen is my absolute favourite, so I am really looking forward to see what Shoryu has to offer.

barbeque char siu pork hirata buns

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Buttered Bacon Brussel Sprouts

buttered bacon brussel sprouts

The idea behind this recipe was inspired from my meal at Swine & Co, in Sydney and my visit to the US. They do a lot of deep fried brussel sprouts there! I wanted to do something similar for Christmas but it had to be quick and easy. I didn’t do a test run before Christmas, all I knew is that I wanted the brussel sprouts to be cooked in butter and bacon fat until the sprouts was blistered and brown. I wanted to create the illusion that they were deep fried by cooking the sprouts in bacon fat and butter. Then I wanted to top it off with crunchy bits of bacon to have the texture of crackling. This turned out really well and it was such a delicious way to enjoy brussel sprouts that I had to share!

Enjoy! x

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Lobster Kitchen, Bloomsbury – London

Lobster Kitchen is another lobster joint to bring the New England Lobster shack experience from Maine USA to the shores of old Blighty. The experience from beginning to end is exactly what you would expect in any lobster shack in Maine. There are no reservations, you order and pay at the register, find a seat at the communal dining space and collect your food when it is ready. Food is served in plastic cutlery, paper cups and disposable containers. While, the space is designed with nautical paraphernalia to mimic the coastal shores of New England.

Lobster Kitchen, Bloomsbury - Split Lobster Tails - The Garlicky One

We ordered the (£15) Split lobster tails rather than the whole split lobster (£18 – this includes a choice of one side). This wasn’t really worth our while considering the whole lobster was smaller than the lobster tails and were roughly the size of my palm.

The split lobster tails were steamed in a white wine and celery stock and we chose to top this with butter, garlic & parsley – The Garlicky One. This was more appealing than the description of the other optional sauces e.g. The Asian, Thermidor or The Cocktail. We asked to have this prepared just under cooked. The texture of the lobster was just perfect and I’m not sure if this would have been any different without our special request nonetheless, this lacked the flavour, seasoning and garlic I was hoping for.

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The Porchester – Bayswater, London

The Porchester - Collage - foodpornnation

The Porchester is a gastropub located in the heart of Bayswater. Part of the Young’s Pub Group, it is a colourful local completed in warm autumnal colours. The interior skillfully strikes a balance between a modern and a traditional English pub. Similarly this concept carries through to the menu which is traditionally British but cooked with a modern flair.

To begin, we couldn’t resist ordering a few items from the bar snacks. The chicken wings (£4) fell off the bone and were slightly charred which gave them a lovely caramelisation. Cooked with chilli, they also offered up a light kick of spiciness. A ranch dressing was a nice accompaniment to these subtle yet spicy wings as it provided a deliciously cool and tangy contrast.

The Porchester - Chillied chicken wings

The chorizo and black pudding scotch eggs (£3.50) was the standout from the bar snacks. The black pudding and chorizo paste struck a great balance in the scotch egg as it was soft and subtle without undermining the delicate flavour of the runny egg. The textural contrast between the soft gooey interior of the egg against the crunchy crumb coating made it even more scrumptious.

The Porchester - Chorizo and black pudding scotch egg

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Chez Boubier, South Kensington – London

Steak w Cafe de Paris Sauce - Chez Boubier collage

Chez Boubier, Café de Paris has opened its first branch in London on Brompton Road in South Kensington. The restaurant serves the single menu (£26.50) of salad, bread and steak and fries with a Café de Paris butter sauce that has seen its 90-year legacy thrive across Continental Europe since 1930. Its famous Café de Paris butter sauce can be found in several locations around the world with restaurants in Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Hong Kong and the UAE. 

Its signature trademark is not only the Café de Paris sauce but also the single menu that is promised to every diner at £26.50. The butter sauce was made famous by then owned Arthur-François (Freddy) Dumont of Café de Paris. The birthplace of the butter sauce is commonly mistaken for Paris, France. However, it was actually conceived in Geneva, Switzerland by Dumont’s father in law, Mr Boubier inventor of the original butter sauce. It is considered a heavily guarded secret recipe enhanced with multiple spices, herbs and other ingredients. It is so guarded even the staff don’t know the ingredients!

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Portuguese Egg Tarts at Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon Portugal

Portuguese Egg Tarts at Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon Portugal
Portuguese Egg Tart

Where Portuguese egg tarts (pastel de nata) all began, Pasteis de Belem (Pastries of Belem), Lisbon Portgual. It began in the early 19th century when the monks of the nearby monastery, Jerónimos Monastery (Mosteiro dos Jerónimos) were expelled and forced to shut down due to the liberal revolution in 1820. The monks began selling Portuguese egg tarts to secure more revenue and over time this grew rapidly in popularity. The recipe was later passed on to the nearby sugar refinery, whose owners opened up Pasteis de Belem in 1837. To this day, the owners continue to savour and prepare the original recipe from this time honoured tradition.

Expect to see long queues winding out the door for this much loved pastry. Locals love it and international tourists have to have it. If you want to avoid sitting around and waiting. Just get this little babies to go. I took these to Starbucks and had them there.

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Francesinha, Cafe Santiago, Porto Portugal

Francesinha – Cafe Santiago Porto, Portugal

francesinha - fpn

Francesinha pronounced Fran-ze-zin-ya (little Frenchie) is a local speciality in Porto. Made from bread, ham, sausages, pork and steak. If that wasn’t enough, this protein layered monstrosity is stacked into a sandwich and then topped with a pan fried egg, cheese, fries and a spicy beer sauce. Phew… that’s enough to make you sweat.

Locals in Porto love and I mean LOVE their francesinha. The people of Porto even get together with friends to have francesinha night outs at their favourite spot but this will often end up with arguments on where they should actually go to get it. On a good day, you can expect a heated debate over the best francesinha and don’t expect any two opinions to be alike. Locals will often argue and argue on who does it best. Your favourite may not necessarily be their favourite. In fact, they probably despise where you get your francesinha. Often the difference lies in the quality of meat but it really boils down to that special beer sauce and that finicky thing called personal opinion. The common ingredient in the sauce is beer and each restaurant will have their own special spices that they add to give it their own unique flavour.

As consensus goes, Cafe Santiago seems to be the most popular place to taste this. I would recommend sticking to Cafe Santiago or to go somewhere recommended by a local. Locals will often eat this speciality on average once a week to once a month, or even once a year. It can be pretty heavy going. But all in all, when everyone gets that craving, they just have to have it.

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Belgian Mussels

Mussels with white wine, garlic and cream sauce – Poules Moules, Bruge

mussels fpn

Apart from the quintessential eats like Belgian chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. There is the must have item that towers them all. Belgian Mussels – Belgium’s national dish.

Moules Frites they call it, meaning Mussels and Fries. The approximately 1.5 kilogram serve will have you bursting at the seams yet you will still find yourself gorging your way through, suckling each and every shell. Waste not want not. They’re not little pissy ones either. You can see these mothers from out of space!

Belgian mussels can be prepared in a variety of ways. You can have them with white wine, shallots, parsley and butter. Or simply steamed with celery, leeks and butter. My favourite is when they prepare it with white wine, cream and garlic. Otherwise you can have it with Belgian beer instead of white wine.

Mussels typically can fetch up to the 30 euro – 50 euro mark, after all we in Belgium. Not cheap! The two places that I tried Belgian Mussels, came highly recommended to me by Belgian locals and rated as great value (approx 25 euro) and extremely good. I am talking “these are the best mussels of my life, type of good and I would come back to Belgium just for these.

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