Restaurant Review: ROKA, Jeddah
Restaurant Review: ROKA, Jeddah
After a successful debut in Riyadh, ROKA opens its doors in Jeddah with sophisticated menu options and chic interiors
After a successful debut in Riyadh, renowned London restaurant ROKA has now ventured into the coastal city of Jeddah.
Centrally located on Tahlia Street, this Japanese Robatayki cuisine concept is rumoured to deliver fresh flavours in a cosy setting, so naturally, I couldn't resist the opportunity to experience it first-hand.
After arriving for a late Saturday lunch, I immediately get wrapped up in the warm and breezy feel of ROKA Jeddah.
Soft natural light floods in through the floor-to-ceiling windows and the sleek all-wood interior is accentuated by an attractive selection of indoor plants in statement pots. The space is bright, airy, and smaller than the Riyadh branch, giving it a more intimate feel, and an open kitchen with bar seating allows for a more interactive experience.
The music is upbeat and instantly puts you in a summer holiday state of mind – all in all, a great spot to enjoy a slow weekend afternoon.
Aside from this relaxed daytime setting, ROKA Jeddah is also a perfect choice for those looking for a vibrant dinner spot, with a DJ spinning remixed hits nightly starting 8pm (except Monday).
Our waiter introduces himself as Chino, adding: “Like cappuccino so you don’t forget.” He recommends some mocktails to start: a fresh, rosy, and not-too-sweet sakura kim for me, and for my husband, a ginger ninja, which has a great kick and is served with an eco-friendly straw that does not go soggy – major kudos to that.
On the menu you’ll recognise some of your favourite signature ROKA dishes, such as the crab tempura hand rolls with sweet chilli (delicious, but stay away if you are averse to the strong taste of seaweed), and the yellowtail sashimi with yuzu-truffle dressing, which stands out as fresh, flavourful, and melt-in-your-mouth buttery.
When dining at Japanese restaurants, my usual approach is to order a bunch of starters to share and one main course accompanied by some sides. I find that the extensive and diverse appetisers usually stand out compared to the mains.
ROKA Jeddah’s menu offers most, though not all, of the beloved dishes from London, and is the first Middle East branch to introduce a signature seasonal specials section titled ROKA News. It features a selection unique to Jeddah, which changes around every three months.
We start off with the crispy rice and spicy salmon, a popular choice amongst diners this season. I personally find the slithered carrots mixed into the salmon spread add a sweet and crunchy element that doesn’t quite complement the dish, and there’s an overpowering taste of hot sauce I don’t enjoy. Maybe on my next visit, I’ll opt for the tuna version instead.
Next, we go for the baby spinach salad, which has a very creamy sesame dressing – tasty but not to be mistaken for a light salad choice. The beef, ginger, and sesame dumplings are excellent, thanks to the juicy meat and well-paired pickles served with them – a clever touch. And, the fragrant warm eggplant, sesame miso, and katsuobushi transports you straight to Japan.
We take a classic turn, opting for the staple crispy prawn, avocado, and dark sweet soy maki rolls next, maybe the best I’ve had in Jeddah so far – extra good when dipped in the accompanying wasabi mayo. In the sashimi-nigiri sushi section, the salmon is standard, while the fatty tuna is a must – very fresh and oh so fatty.
Our animated, attentive, and very knowledgeable waiters provide top-notch service, but as is unfortunately often the case with some restaurants in Saudi, the pace is too fast and the meal feels rushed. If you want a leisurely dining experience, make sure you notify your waiters early on to space out your dishes and give you ample time to appreciate and enjoy your food.
For the main course, we go for the coveted black cod marinated in yuzu miso, with a side of oyster mushrooms with truffle ponzu, which Chino claims “come directly from heaven.” We also order the famous ROKA "baked" potato, yuzu cream, and chives, exclusive to Middle East branches only.
The cod has a robust taste, so if you’re into more milder fish options, I would recommend trying the sea bream fillet, ryotei miso, and red onion instead. The mushrooms are heavenly indeed and the tang of truffle is extremely light, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not usually a fan.
The potato dish is a showstopper, mixed right in front of you with the cream and crispy potato skin.
The main highlight, however, is our dessert experience.
The dessert menu itself features Asian twists on classics, such as the sweet miso crème brûlée, roasted figs, pistachio ice cream, and dark chocolate and green tea pudding with crunchy jivara, pear ice cream. But before we can decide on which, another waiter comes up to us and asks if we’d like to order an alternative or choose to be surprised instead.
We are very amused by this and, of course, choose the surprise – and trust me, you should too. We are presented with what he calls the “tower of goodness.” It’s a date cake pudding with a rich toffee sauce, topped with “Japanese granola” that includes toasted black rice and toasted sesame, and... actually, I’ll save the surprise twist for you to experience for yourself!