German restaurateur, Rainer Becker has been delighting celebrities and mere mortals alike at his Roka Charlotte Street branch since 2004 with his stunning, sumptuous contemporary Japanese cuisine. Perhaps less known is their subterranean secret bar, Shochu lounge in the basement. It has been offering groundbreaking modern Japanese cocktails and distilled shochu infusions ever since the world-famous upstairs restaurant first opened.
Visiting a venue that has been open for more than 10 years, you might be wary of the decor looking dated or the staff showing signs of complacency. That is far from the truth in the case of Shochu lounge. The handcrafted wooden bar manages the smart casual look even better than the clientele. The standout piece of artwork is Jamie Hewlett’s (of Gorillaz fame) quirky wall feature which transports you to the world of the futuristic Japanese drinking den. There is also a shelf display of beautiful shochu bottles, which regular customers can consume and leave behind for storage.
Their pièce de résistance is their newly launched kaiseki menu. It is a dream collaboration between their bartender and chef and served on their shochu table, consisting or 7 exquisitely crafted cocktail courses carefully matched with the finest Japanese cuisine offered by Roka. You would struggle to find a similarly personalised premium experience anywhere else in London.
The highlights are numerous from the beginning to the end. Their fresh sashimi platter offers some of the finest quality fish you will find in London; this is matched with a warm atsui soba cocktail, which is soy-based, uses buckwheat and served in a vintage looking Japanese teapot. It is a special cocktail that is heartwarming, brings out the seafood flavours from the sashimi and only available on the kaiseki menu.
One of the most irresistible warm dish on their menu is the black cod toban with melt in your mouth cod and sweet tasting sauce soaking into the moist rice at the bottom. This was combined perfectly with a camomile martini which cut through the rich, sweet flavour of the fish and also made quite the spectacle as the infusion took place before our eyes.
Talking of spectacle, we must mention the giant crystal clear block of ice, which is used in quite a few of the kaiseki menu cocktails and carved adventurously in front of you. If you ask head bartender, Giorgio Maggioni politely, he might let you even use the giant chainsaw to carve your own ice blocks for your drinks.
The sensational seasonal dessert platter is a sight to behold complete with a dessert selection, fruit platters, sorbets and ice creams and just to top it off, you get 3 cocktails paired with your desserts with flavours ranging from sharp, bitter and twisted, which happens to be the name of the cocktail course. Executive chef, Hamish Brown has done a tremendous job in matching his food with the cocktails created by the inventive bar team from Shochu lounge. This is one immersive experience you cannot afford to miss.
Words by Baldwin Ho
Photography by Richard Southall