Open Mon–Fri midday–11.30pm, Sat 12.30pm–11.30pm, Sun 12.30pm–10.30pm
When it comes to Japanese, I have a selective palate and a healthy skepticism for nontraditional takes on my favourite cuisine. Though I appreciate attempts at fusion, I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my sushi, yet ROKA gave me a good feeling from the moment I strolled through the door.
The meticulous attention to aesthetics was a harbinger of the beautifully presented dishes to come. Reclaimed wood and muted lighting set the mood. The open kitchen with robata grill lent a communal feeling to the contemporary atmosphere. Closely arranged tables of couples and the after-work crowd left little room for private conversation. For this meal, you can leave the kids at home.
We began with the kampachi sashimi, which consisted of thinly sliced yellowtail arranged like delicate flower petals. Complemented by a subtle truffle yuzu dressing, it was the perfect starter to showcase the fine quality of the fish.
We followed up with melty mouthfuls of chutoro, fresh salmon tataki pieces, and tuna tataki rolled around crisp and spicy radish. Every piece of fish was cut with precision into a bite-sized serving, though those with voracious appetites should be warned that portions are modest.
My dining companion praised the smoked duck breast in plum miso sauce. Meanwhile, the nasa dengaku was so tender that it disintegrated in my mouth; unlike other versions I’ve had, this take on miso-glazed eggplant was succulent without being oily.
Maki often runs the danger of being unmemorable or, worse, overly ambitious (think: jam-packed as a burrito with mismatched fillings). Yet at ROKA, the maki showcases the fish, a good sign of a restaurant that takes care in selecting first-class ingredients. The unagi roll was doused in a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce and given extra bite by slivers of shiso leaf (I always appreciate it when I can enjoy sushi without adding a drop of extra soy sauce).
From the mindreading abilities of the bartenders to the efficient turnaround of the servers, we experienced impeccable service at every point in the meal.
With an extensive cocktail menu and wine list, options abound for both the adventurous and traditional drinker. In my companion’s glass, chocolate flakes imprinted with ‘ROKA’ floated gently, like lily pads in a pond of Brandy Alexander. As with the furnishings, it’s all in the details.
In a nutshell
While I am usually dismissive of anglicised Japanese food, ROKA is the rare instance when the chef delivers on the lofty promise. I was impressed by the quality of ingredients, the plating of the dishes, and the design of the establishment itself. ROKA persuaded me that properly executed “fusion” can enhance rather than appropriate the concept of sushi. For an exquisite dining experience, ROKA is precisely the kind of place to bring the food snob who values substance over style. The plush setting is just a plus.