I was asked a number of times which restaurant I had chosen for my birthday dinner last week. ‘Rök’, I said. ‘Oh’, replied the curious ones, ‘Great choice. I do love Roka’. On each occasion I then explained this was Rok without the a, and in fact very different to the popular, award-winning Japanese restaurant. ‘It’s a smokehouse. You know, Scandi food’.
If Rok is not well known among Londoners, it should be. Foodies will undoubtedly have either heard of it, or eaten there. It’s been applauded by critics (Grace Dent named it one of her 2015 favourites) and you can book a table. And finally – and this is an advantage perhaps purely for me – it’s not in Hackney or Dalston or Peckham, where for some reason every London restaurant on my list is located (a deterrent as it’s quicker for me to fly to Amsterdam than get home from there).
Shoreditch-based Rok is tiny. That’s perhaps its one drawback; it’s a squeeze. The tables are too small for the jars of pickles and plates of smoked and fermented food which come your way. But it does make it cosy, and warm, and friendly. All things which help on a cold February evening. And the interiors are right up my street, stylish in a laid back way, lots of wood and simple white walls.
It’s not for everyone. Fermented/pickled/smoked food never is. Though it does seem to be one of London’s latest crazes: fermented food is very on trend (kimchi is everywhere), plus it’s super healthy, which helps in the popularity stakes. I know eating – let alone loving – meat is not so on trend these days. But that was the reason I wanted to come here. I heard the lamb and the beef – grilled using a charcoal-fuelled BBQ – was incredible. And I was not disappointed. Despite a horrid cold I could still appreciate the beautifully grilled lamb rump, and devour the fermented monksbeard (I promise you it tastes better than it sounds). Plus, who knew pickled fennel (and cabbage) was so delicious?
Sadly their chocolate cake had run out, or we would definitely have had that. Rob worked his way through some British beers, and I enjoyed the house wine. Their bar actually stays open until quite late. But I guess I just have to remind myself this is East London, not Fulham.
This is a place for those who want to try something different. Vegetarians will enjoy the pickles, but it would be a shame to come here and not try their meat. And their bone marrow mash. Move aside Roka…
26 Curtain Road
Photo credit: Rok