“What is Poké?” I thought, reading the invitation for a new restaurant in Mayfair. Was it was something to do with Pokemon? Rather than grilling conventional, real-world animals, perhaps we might be served roasted Pikachu, or a reduction of Bulbasaur? Such an idea would of course be nonsensical, as I am led to believe that Pokemon do not exist. Poke is instead a Hawaiian raw fish salad. Feeling a fool, I resolved to educate myself, and booked in a visit.
Arriving at Mill Street on a balmy Monday evening, the restaurant is chic, subdued, even exotic. You won’t find any starchy white table cloths here. Instead it’s dark, moody blue lighting and dimmed lights; large see-through tables and expansive chairs; a cafe del mar soundtrack and a sense of youthfulness. It’s a fun, expensive atmosphere that feels like a stylish Swedish billionaire’s super yacht.
The maître d’ is a young chap with a wispy beard who greets me naturally, casually, and unceremoniously points me toward the table where my companion is already seated. I like this. It makes me feel that eating out in London’s richest neighbourhood isn’t a big deal. Because it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be.
Our waiter comes over – a Spanish guy with an accent my girlfriend says she “likes”. I’m not too sure I like her liking his accent, and so I order a beer to make myself feel more manly. A Hawaiian Longboard arrives, and it is absolutely delicious. Appreciating that our waiter clearly has good taste, I ask him to order us the best dishes off the house.
We begin with two pokes – ahi tuna and salmon. It’s novel and delicious. Chunks of raw fish on a bed of rice, pineapple, roe, and with chilli salsas and soy marinades – it’s a huge, exotic, Omega-3 filled kick. It’s more moreish than sashimi or chirashi, and seems to pack every flavour sensation possible. Fruity, spicy, umami – but miraculously even the nuanced flavours like the roe stand out as fundamental components. I’m really quite amazed at the dexterity of putting together a salad like this. It’s not easy and they do it brilliantly.
It’s rare to find unusual cuisine these days. In this wondrous capital, you can find anything you want to eat at any time of the day, but because of that we have become jaded. From Fufu to Freekeh – we’ve tried it all. Dining out has become a matter of ensuring quality control, rather than an adventure of the senses.
We follow with asparagus tempura with truffle aioli and lobster and crab parcels. Both dishes of course sound very Japanese – but the flavours are richer and softer, like an extra thick mattress on a Japanese futon. The asparagus tempura in particular are absolutely delicious and add a warm, luxurious crunch to the exoticness of the poké.
Next was the most amazing fish I’ve probably ever had at a London restaurant. It was on the specials board so unfortunately you may not be able to have the same treat; but the roasted yellowfin tuna was incredible. It sent shots of happiness up my spine as soon as I tasted it. Warm, delicate, meaty, sweet, perfectly cooked, with a slight char-grilled sensation – every single mouthful was an absolute delight. But it was also uncomplicated. There was no dressing; no grand fuss over presentation; no yellowfin tuna done four ways – this huge steak of fish was served as simply as it should have been. With zero fuss and an absolute focus on flavour.
It was this presentation that really got me sold on Black Roe and will ensure I return. It doesn’t need to mess about. It doesn’t need to be pretentious with the way it presents its food. It knows when to be complicated, and when to be simple – focussing entirely on what makes the food sing. When you get that straightforward abandon and joy for food mixed with chic, luxurious surroundings, you know you’re onto a winner.
We had the melting chocolate and cherry panna cotta to finish. Both are delicious, but the chocolate cake is particularly so. It was so good it made me irrepressibly grin the whole time I was eating it.
Simple or complicated is often the decision we have to make when we go out. Do we want elaborate, subtle layers of flavour with decorative flair? Or just a straight-up, no-nonsense, big-on-flavour meal? But there doesn’t have to be a dichotomy. Instead it should be about flavour. There’s nothing stopping an aesthetically complicated dish packing a huge flavourful punch; nor any absence of beauty arising from simply roasting a huge yellowfin tuna steak. This is modern, non-judgemental restaurateuring; and it’s fantastic.
Black Roe Poke Bar & Grill, 4 Mill Street, Mayfair, London W1S 2AX. Tel: 020 3794 8448. Website.