It's been roughly three months since Black Roe opened its door as London's premiere poke place. It serves up the Hawaiian raw fish salad from an open bar, alongside plenty of other seafood.
Nestled on the edge of Mayfair, it's unnervingly close to the gaudy seafood hotspot that is Sexy Fish. It doesn't quite have the same cover but it does have the dark marble feel and pumping background music.
You can also book a table by WhatsApp, it might amuse you to know.
Poke is the 'It' food of the year, in case you haven't heard. It's in a bowl (very important for 2016) and even Pret is doing its own version. So it was only a matter of time before London got a restaurant that specialised in what some are calling the 'sushi salad'.
The premise is fairly simple – marinated raw fish with some veg, maybe some rice. Eat.
Luckily, Black Roe have got that down pat. The seabass poke is very good. The fish tastes fantastic and the wasabi salsa oozes through the bowl, soaking into the sticky rice layered at the bottom. Saying that, the covering of mustard seeds feels unnecessary, an addition that adds nothing not already there.
There is one unexpectedly noticeable bone in a cube, but these things happen.
The restaurant is fairly dark and the music is loud. It's unfortunate that Sexy Fish is a two-minute walk away because you get the feeling Black Roe is going for a similar vibe without quite having what it takes – if they were bigger, louder, more full, then the music would make sense. At the counter, with a fair few empty tables behind you, it doesn't.
But the menu looks good, an array of seafood to whet any appetite. A poke selection on one side, including a beef option and vegetable option; some appetisers on the other, there's scallop and they keep calling tuna 'ahi' (the Hawaiian way). Below that are mains from a kiawe wood grill, another Hawaiian import.
There are, of course, oysters. £3 for oyster au gratin, but the menu lists no other way. Hot, cheesy oysters or nothing. And they are hot and cheesy, so probably fine if that's the way you like oysters. But for others, having plain oysters on the menu seems an obvious thing to miss – and something that wouldn't really take much more effort. They have the oysters already, no?
The wood grill offers up not just seafood but rib-eye steak, chicken 'spatchcock', lamb rack and pork belly. The octopus aioli comes in good time, as everything else does, on the hand of an eager waiter. It has a strong, margarine smell that isn't appetising and doesn't leave you salivating for more, as octopus usually does. Thankfully it doesn't taste like that; the wood fire grill endowing its smokiness and the chilli salsa possesses a clean tang.
The eager waiter quickly gets wine too, when ordered mid-meal from a list that's just OK when it comes to ordering a single glass. His eagerness cascades through the restaurant – it's a restaurant that is very ready to be successful but, aside from the poke, doesn't offer up too much to interest you.
The prices are a little high but make sense for the area. The bar is well stocked with most anything you could want (anywhere with Fernet Branca on show gets an extra star). The staff were friendly. As the poke rush comes, they might do a fair bit of business, but afterwards we'll see. Now, where can a guy get a plain oyster around here?
NOTE: James Tennent ate at Black Roe anonymously and paid for his own meal.