What's the draw
Taking over the space previously occupied by Tuk Tuk Noodle Bar, Robata is the latest restaurant in Soho to try its hand at wooing Old Compton Street. Robata's primary come-on is an open kitchen that adds an extra dimension of drama to your dining experience: it specialises in grilled charcoal cooking and boasts a menu that spans everything from sushi and skewers to dumplings and bao buns. Sidle up to the bar for front row seats to the athletic spectacle of chef Charles Lee and co grilling up a storm in the kitchen.
What to drink
A healthy selection of sakes are present and accounted for across the drinks menu, including a number of rice wine remixes of the cocktails you already know and love. The sake mojito is muddled with sake from producer Sawanotsuru, jasmine syrup, lime juice, and mint leaves. Does it taste any different from a regular mojito? No, not really. Is that a problem? No, not really – it's a cooling drink you'll be thankful for having ordered, especially when the hot licks of Robata's open flame begin to lap at your face. The Aka Toki Suntory – a get-together of Suntory's Toki whisky blend, hibiscus concentrate and hibiscus syrup, topped with soda – introduces itself with a somewhat standoffish punch of whisky but proves to be a real easy drinker once you get to know it.
What to eat
You're in a restaurant with a massive charcoal grill: go for the grilled stuff. The broccoli steak, marinated in yakiniku barbecue sauce and red chilli, is a muscular bit of veg that will have you pondering how a cauterised cruciferous could ever taste this good. Another meat-free plate in the form of miso aubergine (surrounded by a paparazzi of pickled shimji mushrooms) tastes like a lovingly tended campfire. The smoky aubey may not be a looker but it's a hot mess we'd happily come back for just on its own. Robata's signature wood-flamed Iberico pork pluma with black pepper and sweet pickled nashi pear shows that chef Lee understands how to make his meats meaty, too. Each slice of pork sings a song of nice and fire and gives us a bit of a clue us as to why honey bees find getting smoked to shit a form of relaxation.
It's worth noting at this point that plates arrive when they're ready at Robata, so be prepared to have your palate bounce from A-to-Z and back again in a sobriety test of flavour dexterity. In terms of the non-grilled fare, the soft shell crab bao bun had a tad too much going on. Piled high with spicy mayo, green mango, purple shiso, cucumber and red chilli, the soft bun became a condiment vessel if nothing else. The homemade kimchi gyoza, on the other hand, were crisp and chewy proof that while Robata might not be a master of all trades – it's still a dab hand at far more than just one.
Small plates from £4.5, cocktails from £9. 56 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4UE; robata.co.uk