Restaurant review: Roku Asia in Beverley set to be as successful as its predecessor, Ogino
While understandable in the circumstances, it was a real disappointment to those of us who care about good food in East Yorkshire.
Ogino was one of the top restaurants in the Riding (and easily the best Japanese) and consistently maintained their high-quality year on year. I’ve eaten there maybe eight or nine times and never had anything other than a great night. Opened by Reiko and Julian Ogino-Stamford around a decade ago, Ogino delivered superb Japanese fine dining to a very grateful and loyal customer base and – though national recognition somehow eluded them – they received plenty of local awards and plaudits. Out-of-sight on a first floor and off Beverley’s main drag, Ogino prospered because of reputation, not passing footfall. So whichever restaurant arrived in its place would have to operate on a similar standing or face almost certain failure. Roku Asia opened in Ogino’s stead a couple of weeks ago and, if I’m honest, I had the feeling as soon as I saw the website that everything would be just fine.
To my relief, it soon became obvious that the Ogino-Stamfords, while gently removing themselves from day-to-day operation, are very much the brains behind the new venture. Roku is basically Ogino re-imagined. Out goes fine dining, replaced by small plates. The focus has moved from leisurely evenings of extravagance toward manoeuvrable lunches and pick-and-mix evenings with your better half. A distinctly different presentational offering, then, but dedicated Oginonians can rest assured that quality, service and atmosphere have all definitely been retained. Ogino hasn’t really gone, it’s just undertaken a Doctor Who-like regeneration. And, thankfully, into Tom Baker rather than Sylvester McCoy.
You know you’re eating at a recently opened restaurant when the brand-new menus are so box-fresh you struggle to crack them open, so stiff are the spines. Once we were in, we wanted to scoff the lot. We ordered three nibbly starters - Spicy Asian devilled eggs, grilled edamame (with lime aioli dip) and Thai shrimp crackers - while we decided. We eventually, rather sensibly, plumped to share a little bit from every section of the six-part menu. Beef tataki with sweet garlic soy, walnuts and chives arrived first and was beautifully prepared carpaccio with just the right balance of additional flavours. As a bonus, the little bits of walnut proved excellent chop stick practise.
Crispy softshell crab came served with more lime aioli and pickled root veg and proved the best-looking dish of the night, as well as one of the tastiest. Dishes were arriving with perfectly timed regularity. Just as we came to the end of one, another appeared. Rarely were there ever more than a couple on the table but never once was there none. All credit to the kitchen and waiting staff for their spot-on timing on what was a busy Friday night. Unexpectedly, a couple of unassuming veggie dishes stole the show. Steamed bok choy with oyster sauce and fried garlic and – particularly - cauliflower karaage with black garlic ketchup transcended their humble ingredients and yet again demonstrated that all it takes to turn underrated veg into top notch plates of grub is flair and imagination.
Duck sushi with chives, cucumber and sweet hoisin arrived and were demolished before they even had chance to settle in. And then came a couple of more substantial portions. Crying tiger beef was beautifully, juicily cooked and presented with a bowl of tamarind, coriander and chilli and a pile of Asian veg. And shredded duck with kimchee and egg fried rice proved that dishes you might order from a takeaway can reach a whole new level when prepared by a skilled restaurant chef.
One staple I’m delighted has been carried over from Ogino is the sake taster. Three different shots – nigori, seishu and ume – served in a bowl of ice, for under a tenner. A great way to introduce the uneducated palate to the subtleties of sake. As usual with Asian restaurants in the UK, the desserts at Roku tend toward the Anglicised. On most menus, they always seem to be things like Eton Mess with tamarind or wasabi-infused bread and butter pudding. It would seem that either the Japanese don’t do puds or the English don’t like Japanese puds. Either way, I’ve ceased ordering them in such circumstances. Roku’s desserts rather predictably do include a passion fruit rice pudding and a sticky toffee pudding with five spice but they also have mochi ice cream or giant fortune cookies, so there is at least an attempt at keeping things authentic.
If you ever ate at Ogino, I don’t doubt you’ll return and enjoy Roku. It’s just the same but brighter, quicker and with greater choice. It’s not as fancy but that means you can just pop in without having to set aside hours of your time. If you never went to Ogino, you really should have, and Roku provides you with ample opportunity to correct past failings.
From a financial and lifestyle viewpoint, Reiko and Julian have made exactly the right decision. It’s clear that Roku will take up less of their time and has – thanks to greater turnover of diners - the potential to bring in more trade. It’s a canny move that isn’t without risk but could and should allow them to sink merrily into the shadows without losing much needed income. For what it’s worth, I doubt they will disappear. They both enjoy their creation too much to completely take their hands off the tiller. Unless, of course, they are made a very handsome offer. Roku is so well-considered and efficient, I definitely wouldn’t rule that eventuality out.
1 Beaver House, Butcher Row, BeverleyHU17 0AA www.rokuasia.co.uk