Robata, this is the name of the charcoal grill commonly used in Japanese cooking – a technique that features heavily in this independent restaurant. Located in the bustling streets of Soho, Robata offers an extensive menu of sharing plates, curated by Head Chef Charles Lee. Having worked previously in a number of Michelin starred restaurants, Lee brings the unmistakable flavours of Asia and fuses them with modern day creativity, in a menu that keeps you wanting more.
A long yet narrow restaurant, with wooden tables lining the length of the walls, each one laid with a typically Asian set up of chopsticks, soy sauce and a dipping bowl. The space is small and intimate, but would you expect anything less from a busy West End eatery? The only natural light comes from the large windows at the front of the restaurant, the rest of the space is dimly lit with spotlights, creating quite a sombre but pleasant atmosphere. For the full experience, I’d recommend requesting one of the stall seats, which overlooks the charcoal grill. Though not as relaxing as the soft, sofa-like seats adorning the tables, it’s worth it just to watch the impressive flames rising up from the grill.
From city workers to tourists, there is never a quiet time at Robata. It’s Soho; food is served fast and turnover is high. It’s not a place to while away the hours and catch-up over a bottle (or two) of wine – that’s what the endless number of bars which occupy the West End are for.
If, when I said ‘sharing plates’ you were immediately dubious, don’t be. You will regret not being able to try all the dishes if you decide to be that person that ‘doesn’t share food’. From fresh sushi to grilled skewers, the menu has quite the extensive range of plates, each differing in flavour and texture. We ordered all of our plates in one and they came out within minutes of each other, creating quite a spread on the table. Eager to try a bit of everything, we selected an array of dishes, including the deluxe sashimi set, J.fried chicken bites with gochujang mayo, which were incredibly tender, the soft shell crab roll, and the beef fillet and hand dived scallop Robata Skewers – straight from the charcoal grill. Favourites included the braised short rib bao bun – I could have easily eaten the two to myself – and the tuna tartar, topped with a quail egg, black caviar and served with a rich truffle mayo. Not to be missed is the miso aubergine; both sweet and salty, the soft and tender flesh is topped with pickled shimiji mushrooms and black sesame seeds. This dish is definitely not a side, very much worthy of the accolade ‘Robata Large’, as it’s referred to on the menu.
In a nutshell
This is a destination restaurant, not one that you pop in to just because you’re ‘in the area.’ The service is attentive, the food is an exploration of different flavours and the menu is so extensive I am going to have to return at least once more, to try everything I didn’t get a chance to.
56 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4UE; robata.co.uk; 020 7287 5766