DUBAI: Roka is the smaller, slightly more casual, sister of renowned Japanese restaurant Zuma. It’s branch in Dubai — housed in a building designed by the acclaimed late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid — is its first in the region, but another is scheduled to open soon in Riyadh.
Its entrance is marked by a white light sign on the gray floor spelling out the restaurant’s name. Simple and stylish. That’s a theme continued inside, where the cold concrete walls and pillars are warmed up by wooden accents and plenty of greenery. The mellow electro beats in the background and the dim lighting all add to the ‘contemporary jungle’ feel of the place — although the stunning views of the downtown skyline are a reminder that you’re in the heart of a city.
There are a number of great dishes at Roka, but if you’re only going to order one thing, we would recommend the rosuto bone marrow; combined with the venue’s jungle vibes, you’ll feel like an ancient hunter-gatherer as you feast on this charred, cut bone served with garlic confit, mini miso buns and pickled shallots (admittedly, an upmarket hunter-gatherer). The smoky fattiness of the bone marrow combines perfectly with the creamy subtlety of the confit garlic, complemented by the fresh tang of the shallots. It’s a rare treat.
The age nasu no goma-ae (eggplant with sesame miso) is also excellent — and I speak as someone who doesn’t generally enjoy eggplant. This decadent dish offers a deep palette of flavors, balancing the strong hit of the warm eggplants with the faint sweetness of sesame and savory bonito fish flakes, which also add a welcome crunch to the juicy, tender aubergine.
One of Roka’s signature dishes — made famous in its London branch — is the kampashi sashimi no salada. And it deserves its reputation: the thin, supple slices of yellowtail sashimi are drenched in a delicious yuzu truffle dressing and garnished with some fresh greens, creating a perfect marriage of raw fish and earthy umami flavor.
Roka is a Japanese restaurant, so of course we have to sample the sushi. We opt for the deluxe sashimi platter with tuna, yellowtail shashimi, scallop with green tea and sansho, and torched o-toro nigiri with caviar. The presentation is, once again, simple and immaculate — served up on a big slab of ice on bamboo and wooden plates and accompanied by several palette cleansers. Some of the sushi is stacked on the ice to remain cold, while the rest is presented in a beautiful shell. It is all delicious. Roka also serves fresh wasabi with its sushi, which tastes very different from the store-bought version. It has a mild earthy flavor, with a fleeting hot spicy aftertaste.
All in all, our meal was superb, including the side dishes. Roka has quickly become one of our favorite spots in Dubai. The laidback, welcoming vibe certainly helps and, considering the top-notch quality of the food, the prices (somewhere between a casual family restaurant and a high-end venue) are reasonable overall.
If you’re in Dubai and fancy a Japanese meal, then Roka would be our number-one recommendation.