Restaurant Review: Rocket, London

Rachel Stewart reviews the Bishopsgate branch of Rocket

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Start with the solid foundation of a particular national cuisine, put a modern and/or British twist on it, create a few signature cocktails or inventive juices and house it all in a sleek, minimalist restaurant with some quirky design features and low lighting…

This is the recipe for success in London, and relatively new kid on the block ‘Rocket’ is using the winning formula very well indeed.

Italian with a twist

A quick glance at the menu (salads and pizzas) and you might decide you have arrived at a standard Italian restaurant. Upon closer inspection, however, you will notice some decidedly un-Italian variations – black pudding pizza anyone? By the time you get to the sweets menu the British/American classics have taken over, with Eton Mess, chocolate brownie and Key Lime pie on offer.

This fresh interpretation of Italian staples is reflected in the décor of the Bishopsgate branch of Rocket; clean lines and dark wood interspersed with blue and white tiling and a rather funky plate display covering the back wall.

The wine list offers plenty of choice, with several reds, whites and rosés offered by the glass. These range in price from £4.45 for the house wines to £8.30 for a pinot noir. I wasn’t blown away by the Chilean sauvignon blanc that I ordered, but two men dining to my right were very taken with their Chilean merlot.

Starters

The fried baby squid with sweet chilli and lemon dressing was light and crunchy, and thankfully not dripping with grease as is often the case elsewhere. The seasonal starter of grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto was full of flavour and served with a very nice truffle vinaigrette.

Mains

Having been recommended the aforementioned smoked black pudding pizza (with butterfly prawns, pancetta and green chillies) I had more or less resolved to try this before I had even arrived. But with the menu in front of me, my eyes kept wandering back to the list of unusual and very tempting salads.

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I ordered the rare beef and chip salad, of which there was far more rare beef and chips than there was salad, but this was no bad thing as the beef was pink, juicy and tender. The deep fried green beans were a pleasant surprise that really complemented the beef.

As far as I am concerned, a dish can be top notch and yet still fall flat if the accompanying sauce (be it a dressing, dip or gravy) is not up to scratch. Fortunately, the gingered black bean dressing drizzled over the salad was truly delicious.

The chef’s salad of Saint Agur, goat’s cheese, pears, olives and fresh peas with pesto and a Parmesan pine nut dressing proved to be a great combination of flavours – a good option for someone expecting a bit more salad in their salad!

Desserts

I do think Rocket are somewhat missing a trick by failing to carry the Italian flavour through to their dessert selection – an inventive version of the classic tiramisu or pannacotta would have been interesting. In all fairness there is affogato on the menu, but a scoop of ice cream with an espresso shot poured over it does not require too much imagination.

However, Italian or not, the sticky toffee pudding was great, with a lovely, rich sauce and a very tasty, if slightly icy, scoop of salted caramel ice cream. We topped the meal off with an intense espresso that any Italian would be proud of.

The restaurant

The lunchtime crowd at Rocket was a varied one, ranging from businessmen dining in pairs to a larger group of young women to apparent mother-daughter couples. The open kitchen and relatively close together tables do create a buzz that some may find a little intrusive, but I did not find this to be a problem, and a table could always be requested slightly further from the main throng.

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The restaurant was more or less full by 1.30pm, but service was very efficient and the waiting staff friendly and attentive.

I feel compelled to mention the dresses worn by the female waiting staff: bad colours and bad material that do not fit in with the relative sophistication of the rest of the place at all.

By all accounts a younger crowd descends upon Rocket come Thursday or Friday evening, drawn by a live DJ and an extensive cocktail menu, and of course the obligatory Happy Hour (which is never actually one hour – in this case 5pm until 7pm).

There are three Rocket restaurants in London – Bishopsgate, Canary Wharf and City – as well as one in Nottingham. After less than two years on the go Rocket has done well in finding its feet on the crowded London restaurant scene. The slightly whacky yet believable signature dishes mark it out as a worthy contender, and the reasonable price tag adds to the appeal. All in all a very good meal in an attractive restaurant.

Starters £6.35 – £7.50
Mains £8.00 – £16.50
Desserts £5.50
Wine by the glass £4.24 – £8.30

Visit Rocket’s website for more information, including the à la carte menu.