Test Driving Rok Islington - North London's new smoking hot restaurant

rok patePate with knackerbrod and fermented cloudberry.

So, what do we need to know about Rok Islington?

This is the second Rok Smokehouse - the first opened in Shoreditch and was very well received - Jay Rayner talked of "the sheer pleasure of this food". You should be expecting food to be smoked, cooked over fire, pickled and fermented. And with a little Nordic touch, too. 

Where is it?

Halfway down Upper Street, on the section of street between Le Mercury and newcomer pop-up Hen.

rok ribsRibs with sour apple and caramel sauce

Where should we meet friends for a drink first?

In a few weeks time, the answer will be in the separate bar they're opening in the building next door, complete with a cocktail list from Matt Whiley. For now, there's The Taproom for a craft beer or the bar at the Almeida Theatre for a decent glass of wine, which is great as long as you time it for when the performance is on. And Little Bat is pretty close too for a cocktail. 

And where should I sit?

Rok's Islington space is a bit of tardis. It looks teeny from the street, but goes back for miles. The front bit is probably the best place for groups with some larger tables, but we liked being up at the back near the open kitchen. There are skylights so this part of the restaurant feels light and airy.

A word of warning though - if you sit here, you will almost definitely need to launder everything you're wearing which will smell like a bonfire the following day. But in a lovely way. 

rok duckDuck with bacon and lingonberry jam.

And the food?

The menus are essentially the same between Shoreditch and Islington, but this was our first visit to Rok, so it was all new to us. We ranged right through the menu - which divides into four sections; pickles, starters, mains, sides and desserts. Everything we had was great, frankly, but if we had to pick some standout favourites they'd be:

  • Cabbage and garlic pickles (£3) - gorgeous, but perhaps not the choice for a big date
  • Two specials - ribs with sour apple and caramel sauce, which went straight into our Best Ribs We've Ever Eaten category plus another special of fillet of beef with creamed cow's curd and soft herb vinegar (which is also on the main menu with sirloin).
  • And yes, the wood smoked peach with frosted almonds, cream and Laphroig honey - as good as Grace Dent said ("not liking the wood-roasted peach would be an excellent Blade Runner-style test of whether you’re a human being or not"). £6.

Sides were also worth a mention, particularly their potato gratin, which was given extra punch with some Swedish fermented anchovies (£6).

rok peachWood smoked peach with frosted almonds, cream and Laphroig honey

What about drink?

We kicked off with two amazingly potent cocktails - our favourite was the Mexican Dhamma - Anejo and Reposado Tequila with chilli, lima agave and bitters (£11 - and one of the best drinks we'd had in AGES). From a short, but interesting wine list where almost half the list is available by glass, carafe or bottle, we picked a Tago Largo from Alicante for £27, which was more than capable of matching the smoke and various meats we had.

Overall thoughts?

On a Thursday night in August this place was packed to the rafters and, having had dinner there, we now understand why. It's fun, the menu has loads you'll want to try and we didn't have a single duff dish. It's innovative and not too expensive - pretty much everything you'd want from a good neighbourhood restaurant. We're already planning our return visit.

Rok Islington is at 149 Upper Street, London, N1 1RA. Find out more about Rok

Hot Dinners were invited to Rok. Prices were correct at the time of writing.