Roka Canary Wharf: Hai!

Canary Wharf gets better. While I have no desire to work there again, when I did – in the early 2000s – it was a culinary graveyard. Things have moved on quite a bit since then and credit to the backers of Roka that they astutely chose Canary Wharf for their second outlet, opening it some five years before either its Mayfair or Aldwych branches. Follow the money was perhaps the principle. Admittedly, it took me a full decade to visit this venue, but a recent lunchtime meal impressed both me and my comrade. Nestled high on the north east corner of Cabot Square, diners enjoy a capacious room as well as a roof terrace from which to spy on nearby goings-on, cocktail in hand. The venue is all about glamour, but in a much more subtle and sophisticated way than, say, its more bling-oriented Mayfair cousin. There is a lot of polished wood and bamboo as well as an open kitchen to marvel at, although the lighting – at least on a drab grey lunchtime – seemed inappropriate; it was too dark and made the place somewhat unpleasantly eerie, muting the atmosphere. An easy problem to fix, however. Service was generally top notch and professional, again a marked contrast to my less than positive recent visits to the Mayfair branch. The menu at Roka (all venues) can be somewhat bewildering, with diners facing a potential tyranny of choice. It being a lunchtime, and a working occasion too, we took the pressure out of choosing and opted for the set menu. At £35/head, while not cheap per se, it gives a very good introduction to Roka’s capabilities. Diners get to share five small dishes and then select one main (out of a range of three), which is served with steamed rice. Presentation is emphasised throughout, although food as an art form is, of course, nothing new to the Japanese. From our early dishes, we marvelled particularly at the spicy tuna maki rolls (pictured), which were not only aesthetically pleasing, but tasty too. Vegetable tempura, by contrast, was somewhat more disappointing in its blandness. The culinary highlight, however, was the main, which comprised a seam bream fillet served with ryotei miso and red onion. The flesh of the fish was incredibly soft, and the miso paste was the epitome of the concept of the umami: a savoury, smoky, salty sensation which combined both mustard and onion across its spectrum. For the bream dish alone, I would return. If only all Roka experiences could be as satisfying as this one.