Roka Aldwych (with Bookatable) Holborn
71 Aldwych, WC2B 4HN
Xmas shopping is hell. I’m OK if I leave everything until Xmas Eve when the adrenaline rush gets me through; but if I have time and there is still some choice, then the indecision is unbearable. How am I meant to know which of eighteen cashmere scarves to buy…? So after the first-world torment of a Covent Garden December I was relieved to meet Fiona in the dark sexy space that Roka Aldwych inhabits where Bookatable, the restaurant review and booking site, had invited us to review their special early evening menu. Roka is owned by Rainer Becker, proprietor of top Knightsbridge Japanese restaurant Zuma, and in a sense this is his diffusion line with an food offer based around the Japanese ‘robata’ grill that is the central feature of the space.The Bookatable special menu offer (£41-last booking at 6.30p.m.) gives you a glass of ‘bubbles’ on arrive, four set starters, a main course and a dessert. Our glass of prosecco was fine but we soon moved onto a delicious flask of sake which restores my equilibrium.First out of the kitchen came the chef’s selection of 5 sashimi which was a little too chilled to let its flavour come through.Iceberg ‘salada no wafu’ (iceberg lettuce with a caramelised onion dressing but no wafu…) was crunchy, sweet and refreshing.Black cod, crab and crayfish gyoza (dumplings) were fat, crisp and moreish.Avocado maki rolls were tricky to pick up with chopsticks but otherwise delicious.Fiona’s beef fillet, chilli and spring onion had a caramelised and seared outside but was pink and tender on the inside.My black cod marinated in yuzu miso had lost some of its texture and should have been firmer-there was a problem with the timings of our mains and it had probably been sitting under a hot lamp…however the management rectified the situation by comping us another flask of sake.Fiona loved her dark chocolate & green tea pudding with crunchy jivara and pear ice cream with a matcha sauce pouring out of the hot sponge like a healthy green lava flow.My peanut, vanilla and chocolate sundae with poki sticks and banana tempura was stupidly good.The Bookatable deal at Roka is excellent value and really makes sense for an early evening dinner. Sometimes the service felt a bit rushed but any problems were rectified and they were under pressure to turn the tables on a busy pre-Xmas evening. The Roka group also has branches in Charlotte Street, Canary Wharf and Mayfair.