Robata: Where to Eat London’s Best Japanese-Style Charcoal Grills
Known as robata for short, it simply means ‘fireside cooking’, where food is charcoal grilled, a bit like a BBQ. The Japanese tradition was first introduced by ancient fishermen, who took boxes of hot coals with them on their boats to warm their food at they gathered their day’s catch.
And where best to try it? At the aptly named ROBATA, an independent restaurant in Soho. The restaurant offers a unique dining experience where exceptional Asian flair meets 21st century creativity. The restaurant, located on Old Compton Street, is a hotbed of sake cocktails, sharing plates and their celebrated robata skewers.
While the cooking method has largely stayed the same, the menu is a modern interpretation of some of Japan’s most prized dishes, as well as a number of ROBATA signatures created for Western palettes.
The menu is broken down into five sections – small plates, raw & sushi, bao buns, robata skewers and robata large – and you’re advised to share a number of dishes between you.
Highlights include ROBATA’s charcoal-grilled skewers, created using the finest cuts of meat cooked over blazingly hot charcoal, not only providing a little theatre from the open kitchen, but also producing sensational results with plenty of flavour in every bite. Signature dishes include the most tender piece of meat – Iberico Pork Pluma – along with the Beef Fillet, smoked and cooked over burning hay.
ROBATA also embraces another of Japan’s great traditions – the izakaya, a casual pub/diner that’s designed for eating as much as drinking, more akin to a Spanish tapas bar than our traditional pint-and-a-packet-of-pork-scratchings boozers.
‘ROBATA also embraces another of Japan’s great traditions – the izakaya, a casual pub/diner that’s designed for eating as much as drinking’
This izakaya-style restaurant is a little smarter than the ones I used to hang about in when I lived in Tokyo some years back (if you’ve spent time in the Land of the Rising Sun and were a fan of WaraWara, then we are kindred spirits), with smart, minimalist decor, moody black ceramics and soft uplighting.
Not just a place to satisfy hunger cravings, the bar at ROBATA keeps guests well-oiled with its extensive selection of fine sake – from old favourites to new editions – and sake-based cocktails. Try the likes of the Sake Mojito (Sawanotsuru sake, jasmine syrup, lime juice and mint leaves), Ume Ocha (Umeshu plum sake, pineapple juice, peach liqueur and Sakura tea foam) and Umetini (Roku gin, Umeshu plum sake and orange bitters).
ROBATA is a great pit-stop for any occasion, from the main menu to the pre-theatre menu – a fixed-price menu offering dishes such as soft shell crab rolls, kimchi gyoza, crispy duck salad and Japanese chilli pepper squid, with a glass of house wine or selected drinks within the price – lunchtime fixed menu, tasting menu and the bottomless brunch serve at weekends.
Head Chef Charles Lee has worked in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants during his career. Possessing a strong command of Asian cuisines from across the globe, Chef Lee has devised a menu that shows the diversity of the country’s food, highlighting traditional cooking techniques and contemporary flavours, along with using the best of British produce.
Everything about this place is built on Japanese principals: friendly service, fresh food bursting with flavour, natural cooking techniques and food that stimulates all five of the senses.
The fast-paced restaurant can accommodate large parties as well as being small and intimate enough to hire for smaller, private events and corporate functions.
56 Old Compton Street, Soho W1D 4UE; robata.co.uk
On Instagram: @robata.soho