Review: ROKA Riyadh
Taking the Japanese dining experience beyond sushi, sashimi and tempura…
Enter through the black glass door, and a joyful encounter awaits at ROKA – the seven-month-old contemporary Japanese robatayaki that is an unbridled pleasure for lovers of food. And, all the more so, for lovers of Japanese food.
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As you walk into the striking industrial-chic, timber-clad restaurant, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the robata grill, which takes a central position in the dining room. This is where the chefs’ knives glisten, and the heat shimmers off the charcoals. In short, it is where the theatre is, and it gives ROKA personality.
We recommend sitting at the robata grill counter, especially if it’s your first time dining at ROKA. But on our return visit this time around, we sit on the urban oasis terrace for lunch. It’s a quiet Friday afternoon, a sunny day with a perfect breeze, and nothing is more glorious.
The dishes are assembled in beautiful ceramics, and they manage to find an equilibrium between your favourite Japanese flavours and a delicate presentation pleasing to the eye.
Start with the yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing and rocket on top (SAR100) – it tastes even better than it looks – while the crab, black cod, and prawn dumplings with roasted chilli dressing (SAR90) melt upon the first bite.
Those who know about sushi in Riyadh know it’s done well here in ROKA, so we get the serving staff to bring a selection as suggested by the accomplished kitchen team.
We graze our way through the medley of hand-pressed morsels. One by one, each nugget of well-vinegared rice, fashioned with semi fatty tuna (SAR100), tuna (SAR90), and salmon (SAR45), magically appear on our plates in front of us.
Next are the maki rolls: crispy prawn, avocado and dark sweet soy (SAR55), and wagyu tartare maki with karashi mustard (SAR95). Standouts from the euphony include the latter, which is alarmingly good, with its brown crunchy outer layer against the melt-in-your-mouth wagyu and then the fresh mustard sauce that harmonises the hefty mouthful. And, very gratifyingly, all served with a pile of palate-cleansing ginger and a pool of soy sauce.
With our sushi platter comes the fried squid (SAR80) and iceberg lettuce with caramelised onion dressing (SAR55). The crunchy, fried squids are all the better with the zesty chilli and shiso sauce, while the refreshing lettuce is given a Japanese fusion twist – something we’d delightedly order by itself for a zingy lunch.
Then, there’s the limited-time-only dish: half lobster with yuzu, miso and garlic butter. The lobster meat on its own is sweet and tasty, but we feel that the piquant yuzu-miso dressing overwhelms the delicate taste of the lobster.
A lot of the hubbub, naturally, is for Roka’s signature black cod marinated in yuzu miso and pickled radish (SAR230). It is cooked over hot charcoal, known as ‘robata’, a long-standing tradition in Japanese cooking. Robata is, in fact, short for ‘robatayaki’, which translates as ‘fireside cooking’ in Japanese cuisine. The result: delicate cod that’s soft and buttery, flavour bomb sauce, and the charred crust definitely adds dimension to the taste.
A bit of main-course theatre follows with another stellar signature – the ROKA “baked” potato with yuzu cream and chives (SAR70). This humble dish is a must-order, and when it’s delivered to your table, it’s mashed together in front of you.
Lastly, the sticky date pudding with puffed rice (SAR75), particularly the sweet potato ice cream that comes with it, is a welcome end to a most indulgent meal.
No doubt, a respectable standard and a great appreciation for quality and ingredients set the menu at ROKA. One thing’s for sure; we’ll always be back at this upscale joint. Plus, that cod and potato are worth a trip in themselves.
ROKA Riyadh, 5140 Prince Muhammad Ibn Abd Al Aziz, As Sulimaniyah, Riyadh 12243, Sun to Wed 1pm to 4.30pm & 6.30pm to midnight, Thurs to Sat 1pm to 12.30am. @rokariyadhofficial