In my previous review of Ambrosia (https://kenscale.com/2018/06/26/ambrosia/), I noted how dining on the caldera side could disappoint you in terms of the quality of food. During our stay in Oia, Santorini, my wife Jun and I found that the very opposite is always quite true: you are more than likely to have a more rewarding meal away from the caldera. A case in point: Roka restaurant in Oia, which is tucked away on a quiet street far away from the center of the village. On our last day in Santorini, Jun and I made a last-minute visit to change our itinerary to stay the rest of the afternoon in Oia instead of having a lunch outside the village so I needed to quickly look up if there was any place worth going in the village, with some trepidation after a bad meal at Ambrosia. I stumbled upon Roka which Jun and I had to get to via narrow alleys; we almost missed the restaurant’s sign before circling back and eventually finding it. The interior of the restaurant was certainly charming and much more quiet than the main strip of Oia which was already starting to swarm with tourists. We sat on the outdoor patio partially overlooking the coast, reminiscing about our awesome time in Santorini. What we did not realize was that we would go on to have the best meal of our Greece trip at Roka.
The menu at Roka doesn’t look anything fancy; in stark contrast to Ambrosia’s menu that screams “modern” Greek (or at least a pretense thereof), the dishes here seem far more traditional. What really made Roka’s food stand out, however, was the quality of ingredients. I seldom talk in length about salads at restaurants I have visited throughout my culinary journeys, but the Roka salad here deserves a rave. I have not realized that a sumptuous yet simple salad dish with roasted “manouri” (fresh goat and cow cheese), figs and caramelized walnuts could bring this much satisfaction. The way different ingredients worked in my mouth felt at first familiar but over time it hit me that I haven’t had a salad this good in a long, long time. There was, however, no secret magic to the dish; it was just the fresh ingredients that made the statement on their own. Despite its more than generous portion, Jun and I made sure to finish the salad. Fava beans puree with grilled calamari and capers was another winner, with hearty and smoky sensation that was absolutely pleasant, and the smooth puree and chewy calamari working in beautiful tandem. If there is one major complaint about Greek food in general we had during our trip, it was the fact that the Greek pasta lacks any sense of texture. We felt the same way for the skioufikta (a traditional Greek handmade pasta) that didn’t have the type of al dente texture we had grown used to from Italian pastas, but still the addition of fresh cherry tomatoes, garlic, spring onions, olives, basil and xinomizithra (white goat cheese) made for a clean flavor that was overall pleasant. For the main dish, fresh dorado with capers, sun dried tomatoes and anchovies was quite nicely cooked to give that quintessential Mediterranean feel to the fish.
We had to make a last-minute reservation through a hotel we were staying at and had no issue getting seated, although the patio got fairly packed during our meal (I could tell that the crowd knew what they were doing in terms of how to eat property in Oia), so definitely book in advance rather than try a walk-in table. There are some really nice Greek wine selections that could go well with your meal; try a bottle of white from Santorini like assyrtiko that would work perfectly for a breezy summer lunch. As we were walking out of the restaurant, Jun said, “For the remainder of our trip, let’s avoid pricey tourist traps. I could really care less about a romantic sunset dinner if the food is bad.” Indeed! At least for Oia, Santorini, you can always enjoy the caldera view from an outdoor bar or café. For a satisfactory meal in this perpetually popular tourist spot, check out off-the-beaten-path places, starting with Roka.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: m. Mpotsari 6, Oia 847 02, Greece