In the Tokyo food maze, sometimes you need a taste of the familiar. A Tokyo classic since 2001, Roti has managed to stay fresh and inventive under the stewarship of British chef Ian Tozer. In the flash-and-you’re-gone Tokyo restaurant scene, it is the upscale comfort food and agile English-speaking staff that has kept a steady audience of Japanese and expats coming back for over a decade. I spent my first ex-pat Thanksgiving with Roti, and a few post-marathon brunches were also celebrated there. After a long absence, I revisited the old friend to see how it has fared over the years and if the chicken was still as amazing as I remembered.
Entering through the terrace area, I passed a man-dinner group, in my guess from one of the financial offices in nearby Roppongi Hills, with an assortment of craft beers and steaks. Next to me, a family from the States were teaching their son how to prepare and eat an oyster for the first time: infinitely amusing and delicious. A Japanese couple navigating the wine list and a group of friends rounded out the early Friday evening in the dining room.
The list of craft beers from the U.S. is a welcome offer, and the craft sampler (¥1,200) is a clever choice to travel from pale to stout responsibly. The wine list is accessible yet sophisticated, offering familiar names and few less-expected novelties. Overall, a showpiece on how to succeed without spending a fortune as the majority fall within the friendly ¥4,000 to ¥9,000 range. On Tuesdays all bottles are 25 percent off, which encourages tippling toward the higher end of the list, or doubling up on a favorite. We tried the recommended Barrel 27 High on the Hog white (glass ¥900, bottle ¥5,400), which was nicely green, crisp and mingled well with the lighter starters.
Opening with a perennial favorite, the hummus and falafel (¥1,400) and baba ghanoush (¥900) were creamy and authentic. Served with flatbread, it could play stand-in for a vegetarian main course.
Then came the oysters (¥450 each)—these were gorgeous. Roti chefs select imported Australian and U.S. stock daily. Coming from ominous places like Coffin Bay and Dismal Bay, our oysters were surprisingly optimistic: fresh, even perky, chilled on a beautifully presented ice bed. I am looking forward to coming back on a Tuesday for a nice bottle of white and a dozen or so oysters for a very enjoyable early fall evening. It was a pleasant surprise to find reasonably priced oysters of this quality.
The NYC smoked herring shooter (¥400 each) is a lightly pickled herring in a sour cream dill mustard sauce, which was the most New York I’ve ever had in my mouth at one time. It adds a playful new layer to the staid 1-2-3 course figuration. This dish is rare to find and easy to say yes to at the price.
A sampler of the classic tuna tartare was elevated with the house dynamite sauce, which is as alive and exciting as it sounds and worked to bring together all the elements of the dish. With chilled, fresh cubes of tuna, avocado and cucumber salad, and topped with fried noodle, it made for a clean, refreshing dish.
The bang bang chicken salad (¥1,000/¥1,500) is a consistent crowd favorite and can easily become a lunch or starter go-to. Light and crispy with a morish Asian sesame dressing, the vegetables stay crisp and don’t drown under the elements. In a brave move, Japanese ginger added a new aspect and gave the dish a soft soprano pitch.
Of the night’s many plates, the clear standout was the eponymous classic Roti chicken (¥1,800 for a quarter, ¥2,400 for a half). Dressed up in a house blend of spices, it is prepared on an imported French rotisserie. Arriving simply, the kitchen knows it does not need any further embellishment as it stands confidently on its own, and the chef gave credit to using fresh, simple ingredients. But it is the expert touch that turned a relatively basic dish into a genuine delight. The truffle fries on the side introduced themselves with a cloud of truffle aroma and from now on, should accompany everything, always.
Dessert was underwhelming, but after six courses we might have been over stimulated. At the very least, it did give us the jolt of energy we needed to break the spell of Roti and turn the evening of new classics into a memorable night out.
One last useful thing to note is that regular Roti guests can register for its weekend brunch club, which grants a free brunch dish for every ¥15,000 spent. I know from experience that it’s also a good place to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas; holiday promotions and menus for this year are expected to be announced soon.
Address: 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Open: Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., 6-11 p.m.; Sat, Sun & hols 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. (Sat, Sun till 1 a.m.)
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Photos by Celia Humphries