Unless you had your head in a box or have been locked in a dark room over the past few months, you can’t have missed one of Birmingham’s hottest openings. Rofuto brought a whole new ballgame to the Brummie table – Japanese but far more than your average Yo! Sushi (not that there isn’t a place for a good bit of Yo! Sushi in all our lives, as I may have mentioned previously).
The brainchild of restaurateur Des McDonald – he of The Ivy and The Ritz – Rofuto promised it all. In case you haven’t done any of the reading, the new swanky eaterie at the top of the equally swanky Park Regis Hotel in Five Ways is a Japanese Izakaya-style restaurant and bar. Izakaya is basically an informal Japanese gastropub. It serves small plates and its menu makes a big thing of the ‘power of five’, whether that be senses, colours or cooking methods, which is apparently of utmost importance in Japanese food culture.
But before we get to the food, first up is the setting. My friend and I visited Rofuto on one of the stupendously aggressive rainstorms we had in June. Being wet-through and dripping water through perfect tile flooring is never my ideal arrival, but the Park Regis and Rofuto staff didn’t bat an eyelid and made us as welcome as they possibly could, pointing us up to the restaurant and helpfully directing us to the bathrooms that I reckon may be the loos with the best views in Brum.
Rofuto takes its name from ‘loft’ but don’t mistake that for some pokey attic space hidden away. A mysterious darkened stairway opens into an expansive open restaurant with amazing views across Birmingham from every direction. There’s a huge dining bar in the centre, the kitchen with all its culinary magic at one end, and a bar area at the other that we were entirely oblivious to until we were shown by the very knowledgeable, passionate and all-round-good-guy manager Freddie.
As we recovered from the torrential rain outside, Freddie helped us with some rather strong but tasty cocktails and we nibbled on spiced edamame beans with all their zingy warmth as we struggled to decide what to order. Even if you don’t fancy dining at Rofuto, trust me when I say you have to pop up there for a drink for the views and experience alone.
The menu’s divided into sushi (and plenty of different types of it), tempura, dishes from the Robata grill, noodles, and sections covering food ‘From The Sea’ and ‘From The Land’. But despite plenty of agonising, we found ourselves utterly incapable of making any kind of decision. Cue Freddie to the rescue.
Instead of delaying things any further, we put our fate in his hands and took him up on an offer to bring us a selection (veggie-friendly for the most part to appeal to my non meat-eating pal) of some of Rofuto’s finest dishes.
First up, Crab, Shiso and Tobiko Gunkan from the sushi menu. I don’t have to tell you how pretty the food is, you can see for yourself. Freddie’s knowledge shone through yet again as he advised us to leave the wasabi and to eat the ginger after, not with, the dish. Seems the way of eating a supermarket sushi pack isn’t quite the best way to do it…
Delicate in appearance, delicate in taste, and a wonderful start to our feast. One of the things I loved about Rofuto was the way the courses came out as they were ready – tapas-style – making for a wonderful journey through food and through the evening.
Next up, a simple pickled mackerel sushi. Another rather beautiful dish and simple as anything. The mackerel is apparently pickled on site and there was amazing freshness to the fish that reminded me of meals taken right by the sea, not in the heart of the Midlands.
Another type of sushi was next – Aburi Hiramasa, from the maki menu (those are the roll ones in case you didn’t know). This was my fave of the sushi dishes. Another beautiful-looking dish and a winner for me in the taste stakes. Yellowtail tuna on top of rice wrapped around a colourful, tasty mix of textures, from soft avocado to the crunch of the tempura Kanpyo (a Japanese vegetable).
Along with a bit of a food education, Freddie guided us through a beverage tour that was far more intricate than my average bottle of wine with a meal. After the sushi we tried Sake – not my favourite drink I’ve got to say, but I can see why the dry wine/spirit-y burn appeals to some.
Suitably refreshed, we moved on to one of Hannah’s non-negotiable dishes – Japanese fish and chips. A simple but inventive twist on the wonderful British classic. Tempura turbot, cassava crisps, passionfruit tartar, and edamame mushy peas.
Turbot’s one of my favourite fish as it is, and it was a good choice for this dish. Robust and moist, encased inside a well-seasoned, light, crispy tempura. And the passionfruit tartar was a sweet fruity version of the usually tangy traditional version. The cassava crisps were a light equivalent to British chips, while the peas were just as good, if not better as the fluorescent green extras that are a staple when I order a chippy tea.
From fish and chips to another Japanese classic drink. Shochu, a Japanese liquor distilled from grains and vegetables. Fab Freddie showed us a drink that’s apparently wonderfully popular with the kids (and now I hope I wrote the ingredients down correctly) – a mixture of Shochu, vodka, honey, pink grapefruit and soda. Another strong one, I’ve got to say, but fun to try.
No, we’re nowhere near the end of our food odyssey. And this, folks, is where it got really good. Next up, we were brought the Grilled Octopus, Mizuna and Pine Nut Salad from the From The Sea menu. I’ve had octopus plenty of times, usually in Greece as either a salad or grilled, and I never get bored of it, though the appearance of a tentacle complete with suckers did make Hannah think twice.
But she didn’t let herself get put off and we both enjoyed the tender tentacle, which had apparently been cooked three times – boiled, grilled, then cooked a la plancha – alongside the peppery rocket and pine nuts.
As I mentioned, Hannah’s vegetarian so we’d steered cleared of meat, but I was allowed one treat dish. And for that, I chose the Black Angus. Beef sirloin, gobo crisps, garlic ponzu and truffle. I’m salivating even as I write this.
Seared beef, still beautifully pink inside. Smooth avocado puree. Crunchy crisps of Japanese vegetable gobo. Smokey burnt garlic puree. And the rich indulgent taste of truffle. At this point peeps, I’ve got to say I’m glad I was dining with a vegetarian because it meant I didn’t have to share this. Seriously good stuff.
Yep, I didn’t think it could get any better. And then – like the grand finale of an orchestral concerto, we reached the denouement, the climax, whatever other word you want to use for that absolute peak at the top of the crescendo when the timpani are banging, the violins are whizzing and the trumpets are fanfaring – came the black cod.
This was another non-negotiable for Hannah and I have to say, while I was curious after she’d raved about how great black cod is, I thought it was probably going to be a bit over-rated. Not so. The dish is Saffron Miso Black Cod, served with razor clams and pancetta. Lucky for Hannah, they remembered she was veggie and brought the razor clams and pancetta separately so she wouldn’t be deprived of her friend black cod.
Feast your eyes on that folks. And believe me when I say it tasted every bit as good as it looked. Silky, buttery cod that melted away in your mouth, mixing with the rich, decadent saffron miso. The razor clams were tender and not rubbery though, frankly, I could have done without them because the main event was that goddamn good.
As if this wasn’t enough, we tried a few side dishes, including Kimchi which I’m a new convert to after trying it at Korean restaurant Modu recently and learned all about how blimin healthy it is. Nicely cleansing too after a bit of an indulgent meal packed with treats, and some rather nice drinkies too, including a glass of Riesling which is rapidly becoming my favourite wine.
Freddie wouldn’t let us escape without at least trying one of Rofuto’s desserts. On our behalf, he chose the Matcha Green Tea Tiramisu. This picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it was pleasantly light, with a nice balance of sweetness without being too sickly.
In all honesty, I could have done without it, but I’m fairly sure nothing would have lived up to the joys of the Black Angus or the black cod, so this isn’t so much a criticism of dessert as probably yet another fanfare for some of the previous courses.
I know, I know. Nobody likes positive reviews, or endless raves about food. And I’m thinking I might have to start visiting some crap places just to even things out, because I’m enjoying rather a lot of nice food at the moment. But I’m afraid I’m not going to downplay how much I enjoyed Rofuto just out of some desire to provide a negative review. I had a fab time. The food was different to anything I’ve really had before, the drinks were too, and the service was impeccable.
In fact, I’ve already booked to take Mr M back 😉
I was invited for a complimentary meal at Rofuto to try it out. I wasn’t asked to write a positive review but no matter how much some people think you should pick fault, I really couldn’t I’m afraid. I promise I’ll update you if it doesn’t live up to this next time.
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