You won’t find Big Mac dumplings at that fast-food chain known for its golden arches, but you will find them on the menu at one of Somerset Street’s newest restaurants. Roku Bar + Bites offers a Big Mak gyoza, describing it as “a Big Mac … in a dumpling.” And it’s one of their best sellers.
Roku, which opened toward the end of 2017 on the corner of Somerset Street West and Percy Street, is a welcome addition to Ottawa’s casual-dining scene. Brothers-in-law Robert Sayaphet and Peter Mak (who lent his name to the aforementioned dumpling) had done pop-up events with their gyoza prior to opening their bricks-and-mortar spot in Chinatown and have now expanded their offerings beyond dumplings. With a focus on their families’ Cambodian and Laotian heritage, Roku serves Asian-inspired street food that incorporates flavours from all over the world.
Everything is snackable and affordable: there’s nothing on the food menu over $15 (with most $10 and under). In addition to the aforementioned Big Mak gyoza (which come with diced pickles and delicious secret sauce), there are pork, seafood, and veggie dumpling options. A big basket of kimchi fries with wasabi mayo was deliciously addictive: the fries are seasoned and topped with kimchi, Japanese barbecue sauce, wasabi mayonnaise, and sesame seeds. (Upgrade it with a fried egg and cheese for an Asian-fusion take on poutine.) The Roku Noodle Bowl was a bright and fresh option with lemongrass beef, pork meatballs, and a deep-fried dumpling.
The larb tofu is a vegetarian take on a quintessential Laotian dish typically served with meat. It’s served with fresh vegetables, herbs, spices, and roasted ground rice, which makes for an interesting mixture of textures. Along with the regular menu, there are weekly specials — the fish in the crispy fish bao was underwhelming as it lacked proper seasoning, though it was sandwiched between two soft and tasty cloud-like buns.
There’s a small but decent list of local craft beers (perfect to wash down Roku’s chicken balls, beef jerky, or wings) and a longer list of creative cocktails. With a corner for a DJ setup, the space mirrors the casual but inviting vibe. The beautiful mural featuring bits of life in Southeast Asia is worth admiring in the light of day — which is doable on Sundays, when Roku does brunch.
A small brunch menu packs a comforting punch: the steamed-dumpling bowl is a savoury brunch treat; a simple grilled cheese to dunk in coconut cream tomato soup makes for a nice pairing. For sweeter options, there’s Falung toast (perhaps a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Thai slang falung, meaning “foreigner”), which is basically French toast stuffed with peanut butter and banana. Or try the coconut pandan pancakes — the pandan leaves lend a shocking green colour, the coconut a subtle flavour. All of it goes nicely with a strong Viet coffee. It doesn’t seem as if many folks know about Sunday brunch at Roku yet, so there won’t be a long line between you and a full belly.
Neon letters spell out “It was all a dream” on one of Roku’s walls, but with friendly service, affordable food, and a sweet space, Roku seems to be destined for a little more permanence.
Roku Bar + Bites, 610 Somerset St. W., 613-656-1638
Sides $5–$8, small plates $10–$15.
Open Wednesday and Thursday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. to late, and Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.