It’s long been a tradition amongst my friends (and I’m sure with many of you) to organise a meal to celebrate your birthday. Since I’m lucky enough to have a number of my cousins in London as well as my close friends, a suitable place with good food and the ability to seat a large number of people is important. Oh, and booze. Roka Canary Wharf ticks all the boxes when looking for a Sunday Boozy Brunch in a classy setting. There are some minor issues, to be sure, but overall it’s a great experience and one well worth the hefty price tag.
Roka is Japanese inspired which is reflected in the décor and style of the polite service. It’s a great place to eat with friends although perhaps not for families with young kids. It’s not cheap, with the three brunch choices ranging from £42-66pp although you can choose within each three rather than one level for the entire table.
The main issue I had with Roka was during the booking phase. I called up and asked to book a table for 14, and was politely told the table for 14 had been taken. Fair enough, can I have two tables for 8 instead? Roka: Yes, we have two tables for 8 available but we can’t promise to put them next to each other.
Now I understand that being able to allocate tables on the day helps with flexibility in planning for the restaurant and I’m on board with that. But given prior experiences (I’m looking at you Bar Boulud) with leaving it to chance, I found that table allocations seem to make little logical sense from a customer point of view as they seem to be made based on the convenience at the time. This left me feeling very frustrated with a rigid and somewhat hostile booking system when I was trying to bring in over a dozen people to spend a considerable amount of cash. Surely we should be working towards that same beneficial goal?
To top it off, when we got there they switched table allocations around to put us all together saying “Oh, you want to be next to each other? That’s not problem at all.”
If you are coming for brunch, you’ll find yourself in Canary Wharf on the weekend which is a very strange setting. The best bets (and really your only choices) are Canteen and the Parlour which are located below Roka. We chose the Parlour (another cookie cutter Drake & Morgan place) which is perfectly fine although slightly unnerving it its identicalness to the Anthologist and the Refinery. Regardless, the coffee was good, they have a range of breakfast cocktails (now doesn’t that scream alchie?), and the service quick.
How about some chow?
As I said above, there are three brunch menu options at £42, £54, and £66. The main difference is a different selection of mains and wines and the £66 menu has a sashimi platter to start as well. For the money, you get a welcome Bellini, unlimited wine, unlimited access to the diverse and delicious buffet bar, a main course, and a dessert platter.
I can’t even begin to go through all the variety of dishes laid out there but let’s pick a few highlights. Although we didn’t stump up for the sashimi platter, you do get a range of the more common sushi rolls and nigri as part of the buffet. There is also edamame to snack on, a variety of salads and soups, and various other dumplings, wontons, and meat. My favourites were the cold batter fried chicken which has a salty teriyaki flavour that was very moreish and tiny salmon topped sushi. The pork gyoza was pretty decent as were the wontons. The best way to sum it up is that we ate so much that tackling the mains started to become an impossible challenge. Also worth noting that they continuously replace dishes with new ones so the buffet bar is constantly changing while you are there.
Mains were similarly spectacular. I opted for the 5 spice roasted duck – perfectly cooked tender meat with a layer of tasty fat and a dry savoury spice rub. The black miso cod was epic (the gf got it so I got to snack on it too) and almost rivalled Nobu’s offering. On the lower end, the massive rack of short ribs looked pretty good and got favourable reviews from my friends. All the dishes were tasty – surprising for a place catering to a boozy brunch of this sort – and I tip my hat to the expertise of the kitchen.
Dessert was a tasty platter (check out the picture) with the highlight being a chocolate and mango layered mousse. They even wrote “Happy Birthday” in chocolate on the leaf which was a great touch. The only downside was that they were fairly stingy on the quantities with one platter being shared between four so you only got a taste of each type of dessert – what if you are in a group that doesn’t like sharing food?
The welcome Bellini was perfectly serviceable and went down well to warm us up. The wine choices differed greatly depending on which menu you opted for with the base level being young, fairly flat wines whereas the middle range included a full bodied spicy red that matched the food perfectly. The mid range white is a bit sweet but also good match for the food.
They are pretty spot on with topping up your glass almost constantly so it’s hard to work out how much you are drinking. Then again, it’s all included so who cares?
Worth the dosh?
I was nervous about this given the high price tag but with the amazing quality of food from the buffet and mains, the well-matched wines, and then general upscale atmosphere, I’d have to go with a resounding yes. I don’t often think a boozy brunch is worth it but I’d have paid the same amount just for the food so the tasty wines were an added bonus. It’s worth the trek to Canary Wharf Zombieland on the weekend.
Find Roka here
40 Park Pavilion Canada Square
London, E14 5FW