If you haven’t already read it on Sassy Hong Kong, here’s another chance to read my interview with Chef Patrick at Roka.
Continuing the success of the original in London, Roka first opened its doors to the Hong Kong public in Pacific Place, Admiralty, two years ago and quickly established itself as a cut above the rest in contemporary Japanese Robatayaki cuisine. Having undergone a slight revamp, Sassy was curious to find out what was different and to reawaken our taste bud memories.
The man behind the inspired culinary creations, Executive Chef Patrick Zepho, was generous enough to take some time out from his busy schedule to guide me through a selection of Roka’s finest dishes and to chat about how a French (Bordeaux to be exact) native becomes a Japanese chef, why Hong Kong is so cool yet overwhelming and how I should eat sashimi…properly.
What was different about opening Roka in Hong Kong versus Roka in London?
At the beginning (2 years ago), we had a simple menu to give us a chance to understand the Hong Kong crowd. As time went on, the menu extended and we found that the Hong Kong palate enjoys more salty and sweet flavours than the London crowd. Hong Kong is a challenge; in London we have no lunch sets on the menu, but over here, everyone loves lunch sets, so we had to adapt and add those in!
What was the biggest challenge you encountered in Hong Kong?
The biggest challenge was identifying the crowd and marketing Roka as a different product- robatayaki versus other types of Japanese cuisine. Establishing Roka as a brand, finding a niche and getting the outside world to come into Pacific Place was challenging. We also wanted our prices to cover the middle to high market and not just cater to the high end. The quality of our food is high end but our prices reflect the type of customers we get. This is why we have the business lunch sets as well as the normal sets we have on offer. On Thursdays we usually get the executive crowd, and on Fridays we have customers having their last lunch before the weekend. We have a mixture- the shoppers, the families, the workers and businessmen and then the younger crowd. So we have something for everyone.
How did you become a Japanese chef?
I studied commerce and marketing in France, and after that started working in Italian and French restaurants. I then travelled around in Japan and discovered the Japanese philosophy. The Japanese have a mind blowing open understanding of what food is about and about the different chemistry of food. I fell in love with Japan. Food was not food anymore. I love the simplicity of Japanese cuisine, yet the evolution of Japanese food is tremendous compared to European cuisine.
Where do you get your ingredients from?
All our raw ingredients come from Japan, the fish, the Wagyu beef. We make our own robatayaki sauces here. The regular beef comes from Australia.
What’s the concept behind Roka?
We have a sharing concept at Roka. Eating is the whole experience, the whole package- dining with friends, enjoying the atmosphere, not just filling up your stomach because you are hungry. At Roka, we have the robata grill in the middle of the restaurants, a centrepiece recreating the sharing experiences of the fishermen many years ago, who used to cook, grill and then share their catch with their friends. That is the concept. All our dishes are created for sharing.
Can you explain the decor and the interior design of Roka?
Roka’s interior was designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu and is about constant movement. Everything is made of natural materials, so the diners have a visual impression of movement. For example, we have the case iron wall which is constantly rusting, therefore demonstrating “movement”. We want to move away from the formality of fine dining and add a friendly touch. We recently added a lounge/ bar area so people have a choice between dining and having a drink with their food in the lounge area.
What don’t you like about Hong Kong?
There’s too much choice! How can anyone’s judgement be fair? A good restaurant on a bad day can have unfair treatment. The Hong Kong people are very demanding and many restaurants lose their identity trying to adapt. I find it scary! And where do you find the chefs?!
Finally… when was the last time you cooked for yourself?
A year ago! I like to cook for others.
Roka, Pacific Place, Level LG1, Shop 002, 88 Queensway, Hong Kong, 3960 5988, email@example.com