Tried & Tested

Restaurant check: Black Roe

26 Sep 2016 by Jenny Southan
Black Roe poke

BACKGROUND

Black Roe was opened in March by Kurt Zdesar, the man who helped launch the Nobu group and is the founder of Ping Pong.

He also operates Japanese-Peruvian restaurant Chotto Matte in Soho and is planning to extend his Hawaiian-influenced Pacific Rim offering with three new sites (Liverpool Street, Soho and South Kensington) in addition to Black Roe in Mayfair. These forthcoming openings are rumoured to be less formal, with street food-style menus.

Zdesar previously opened seafood restaurant Bouillabaisse on the Black Roe site at 4 Mill Street last June, but it didn’t do well and ended up closing down in early 2016. (You can read our review if you are interested in what it was like before.)

THE RESTAURANT

Black Roe is a bit off-the-beaten track, in a quiet Mayfair side street near Savile Row. I had visited last year when it was Bouillabaisse and it looked totally different. When before it was light and seasidey, now it was sultry and hip.

Black Roe restaurant

When I visited on a Monday evening, it was pretty low-key inside, as wasn’t busy. I was told by the waiter, though, that it gets really loud and lively later in the week when they have large groups coming in and DJs playing music. Apparently there is quite a “scene” here. For businesspeople, I would recommend coming when it’s quieter if you want to have a conversation.

Black Roe restaurant

I liked the interiors, which lend themselves well to a club-like atmosphere with dark walls, spotlights, a mix of crimson and turquoise leather banquettes, red neon signs, and oversized black and white photos on the walls (these are all portraits of fishermen and women).

I could see that Zdesar’s obsession with the provenance of fish was continuing from Bouillabaisse to Black Roe, but this time he was packaging for a different (more glamorous) audience.

There is seating for a total of 60 people on the ground floor at polished brass or plain wood tabletops. Downstairs is a communal chefs’ table for 20 people in an “industrial chic” setting, which looks on to the kitchen, pantry and fish tanks filled with live seafood. (This is a good option for private dining.)

Black Roe chef's table

In the window of the street-level restaurant is the raw bar, where a chef is on-hand to prepare iced fish and lobsters lying on display.

Black Roe raw bar

THE DRINKS

I am a sucker for a nicely designed beer bottle label, so loved the refreshing Longboard Island lager from Kona Brewing in Hawaii. There are nine house cocktails (staff can also make the classics on request), and these include the moreish Shuck Shack, which caught my eye.

It’s made with yuzu sake (yuzu is a delicious Japanese citrus fruit rather like a grapefruit), Aperol, mezcal, peach, grapefruit and sea salt. The juice made it a long drink and took away from the potency of the mezcal but was an effective sugar and booze boost for after work.

Punters can order affordable wine by the bottle and glass (from £26/£5.75), but for those who want to show off, there is an additional single-page “fine wine” menu listing much pricier vintages. There is a 2010 Château Haut Brion for £1,850, a 2000 Premier Cru Château Latour for £2,750 and a 2008 Penfold’s Grange for £1,250, for example.

THE FOOD

Black Roe specialises in the Hawaiian dish of “poke” (pronounced “poe-kay”). It’s like ceviche in that it is made of raw cubes of fish (traditionally ahi tuna) marinated with citrus, but is served with seasoned short-grain rice and features soy-based dressings.

Black Roe salmon poke

Here, Black Roe offers no less than eight varieties of the salad including one for vegetarians and one with beef. The most popular, I am told, is the salmon poke made with a yellow chilli salsa. The classic ahi poke comes in a roasted sesame soy marinade, while the seabass comes with wasabi salsa.

I tried the vegetable poke (avocado, radish, carrot, spring onions, tomato, rice, fresh herbs) mingled with Sriracha citrus salsa, which was a flavor explosion and looked fantastic. It’s not often I taste a dish that is so dazzlingly fresh and interesting, and that looks so pretty. I predict the poke trend to take off in London – it’s the new sushi.

With the help of my dining companion, we tore into appetisers of prawn tempura loaded with coriander salsa, green chilli, raw onions and truffle aioli; and delicate grilled scallops served in the shell with black quinoa and mango salsa.

Black Roe prawn tempura
Black Roe scallops

From the Kiawe carob wood grill we chose succulent, meaty octopus aioli in chilli salsa and coriander (salsa is a big thing at Black Roe), and a block of soft Cajun-style blackened tofu with pineapple salsa. Throughout the meal, the flavours of every dish were robust and zesty, and the presentation artistic but unfussy.

Black Roe lobster mac 'n' cheese

Desserts are simple, which is a good idea after the complexity of the savoury food. There is apple tatin with milk ice cream, fresh doughnuts with lemon sugar, cherry panna cotta with butter biscuit and melting chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. I had to try the yuzu sorbet, which was a perfect zingy wake up.

THE SERVICE

Staff were welcoming and attentive, and were helpful in explaining the menu (as usual, these days, dishes are designed to be shared).

VERDICT

Black Roe is a trendy seafood restaurant in the school of Sexy Fish. Come and try the poke – it’s the best thing about it. Whether it lasts longer than Bouillabaisse, with its unobtrusive address, remains to be seen.

  • OPENING HOURS 12pm-2.45pm, 6pm-10.45pm Mon-Sat (closed Sun).
  • PRICES Poke £6.50-£8.95, appetisers £7.95-£14.50, wood grill dishes £9.50-£34.90, sides £3.50-£8.50. There is a large bowl “express” business lunch for £13.95, and a three-course set lunch menu for £23.50.
  • CONTACT Black Roe, 4 Mill Street, Mayfair, London; tel +44 (0)20 3794 8448; blackroe.com
Black Roe lunch
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