Dishes from the robata grill and the lights of the city skyline combine for one remarkable dining experience.
ROKA Dubai opened just days before the global pandemic forced it to shutter its doors for months. Located in the Opus building by Zaha Hadid, in Dubai’s buzzy Business Bay neighbourhood, ROKA Dubai represents the first international location for the Japanese Robatayaki restaurant that recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in London.
It’s such a shame the shine was taken off the opening of ROKA considering the care and attention that have been given to the sister restaurant of Rainer Becker’s Zuma. Still, with a sense of normality returning to the city, it appears that diners are finally beginning to succumb to the charms of this contemporary Japanese restaurant.
Much like the impressive exterior, ROKA is a restaurant that has been impeccably designed inside and out, from the lift that transports diners into a modern dining room complete with open show kitchen to the concrete floors and living walls. The fit-out is modern industrial with touches of slate and natural wood that culminate in a sleek and inviting restaurant space.
Outside is a glorious terrace flanked by foliage and offering impressive Burj Khalifa views that make for one of the city’s more sensual al fresco fining destinations. Alternatively, there’s a stylish private dining room or seats in the heart of the action at the robata grill for those in search of a more intimate dining experience.
We perch ourselves on high stools at the robata grill, excited to be at the forefront of the action as we gawp at the fireside-cookery technique in which many of ROKA’s dishes are flame cooked just meters from our vantage point.
Under the guidance of Executive Chef Libor Dobis, the menu at Roka contains around eighty per cent of the dishes and signatures from the London menu, alongside a handful of new creations and regional adjustments that have been created especially with the UAE market in mind.
We begin with kampachi sashimi no salada (AED 68) a ROKA signature that has been enamouring diners in London, and it’s easy to see why! The fish boasts remarkably thin slices of yellowtail sashimi, doused in an addictive yuzu-truffle dressing that manages to harmonise with the delicate fish’s flavours rather than overpowering.
Never before has a piece of iceberg lettuce tasted so good! The iceberg salad no wafu (AED 45) features roughly chopped leaves slathered with a sweet caramelised onion dressing that manages to diffuse the bitterness for which iceberg is renowned. We savour every last mouthful before moving onto the frankly wonderful sake no taru taru (AED 70), a salmon tartare where the fish has been pureed rather than chopped to provide a smooth texture that is complemented by the inclusion of with yuzu den miso and provided some ‘bite’ thanks to the accompanying crispy nori rice crackers.
We can’t help but indulge in the gindara to kani no gyoza (AED 66) a moreish plate of black cod and king crab dumplings that are lightly seared, beautifully encased and served with a fiery roasted chilli dressing. Similarly, the fuss-free California maki (AED 55) packed full of king crab meat, avocado, mayonnaise and wasabi tobiko show off the culinary teams’ remarkable sushi skills. A selection of sushi, sashimi, tartar and tempura dishes round out the appetisers, with the aka ebi kushi yakipanko (AED 95) being of particular note. The plate of red prawns is best enjoyed with wasabi mayonnaise, and brave diners are encouraged to suck the contents from the inside of the head of the prawn for a hit of robust flavour.
Our main courses come from the heart of the kitchen and the robata grill, a hive of activity throughout the dinner service. The kankoku fu kohitsuji (AED 140) is a dish of beautifully charred and undeniably tender lamb cutlets prepared with Korean spices and sesame cucumber. The award-winning dish is a spicy one but is one that lovers of heat will fully appreciate. The more subdued tai no miso-yaki (AED 95) is also a worthy choice. It offers a light and flaky sea bream fillet, infused with ryotei miso that works its way into the fish during the cookery process, instilling the flesh with a suffused sweetness.
In a similar vein to the iceberg lettuce dish, you’ve never had a genuinely great baked potato until you’ve tried the one at ROKA. Here the inoffensive carb has been transformed into something altogether remarkable. The bekudopoteto (AED 50) is a ROKA speciality in which the potato is taken from the robata grill, hollowed out, mixed with potato yuzu cream and spring onion and placed back inside the blistered skin. A textural marvel that you do not want to miss!
With only five dishes offered on ROKA’s concise dessert menu, the duo that we try are both imbued with distinct Japanese flavours. First up is the sumi fuumi no kokonattsu tamago to passion fruit, a robata smoked coconut parfait bursting with sweet passion fruit, raspberry and lychee. This is followed in quick succession with the yo-nashi aisu, a gloriously rich dark chocolate and green tea pudding served with crunchy jivara and a subtle pear ice cream.
Diners at ROKA will note that the price point is significantly less than dining at Zuma and combined with a service style that is both friendly and casual, ROKA Dubai makes for an exciting culinary offering. A dining experience that exudes personality, energy, and uncompromising flavours and one that is not to be missed.
GO: Call (0)4 439 7171 for reservations and more information.