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Koya - The Best Udon in London?!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Success usually depends on a mixture of luck and hard work although people will debate on the exact percentages of both involved. Koya however definitely had a lot of luck involved with the explosive popularity it received a couple of months ago now. It had definitively brought the world of udon to London.

I’m not a huge noodle lover as I tend to be more partial towards rice (years of habit ingrained into me) but there are definitely certain strains I prefer such as the thick noodles found in Malaysian black Hokkien mee that I’ve yet to see anywhere else (prove me wrong?). Coincidentally, it’s kinda similar to udon! It’s thicker than the average yellow noodle that’s most commonly seen and used with a slightly chewier consistency.

Anyway, there is definitely udon to be found in London with most Japanese restaurants serving it but Koya is the first udon-ya in town. Making all their udon in store (apparently downstairs, I asked if I could visit but was told they weren’t making it at that time) ensuring quality and freshness. They then provide a variety of hot broths and cold sauces to eat it with.

The following were sampled over two dinings on separate days.

Kaiso Salad – mixed seaweed salad”. We were sharing a table with a random Chinese couple and were given this little bowl soon after we sat down. Naturally we tucked into it, assuming it was a free starter only to find that it was actually meant for the couple next to us. Luckily the staff told us not to worry and to just enjoy it. I didn’t actually enjoy it so much as it was quite tart and sour, but the PigPig enjoyed the refreshing quality of it.

Koya, London 1

Onsen Tamago – poached egg”. An onsen is Japanese hot spring and traditionally the eggs were poached in the hot spring. I’m guessing Koya had no such facilities available and just poached their egg like normal people do. The egg itself was a little bit more cooked than I would have ideally liked, but that’s entirely subjective. The accompanying broth was a plain dashi which suited the simple taste of the egg. Weirdly, the dish was cold but I don’t know if this was intentional or not.

Koya, London 2

"Baby clams steamed in sake". This was one of the specials on the board and we were really happy we spotted it. The stock it came in was strong and heady and went well with the naturally briny clams.

Koya, London 3

Kakuni – braised pork belly with cider”. Not too sure I could spot the cider, maybe some lingering aftertastes of sweetness. All I know is that the pork was literally melt-in-your-mouth with just the right amount of fats to make it tender and juicy without being cloyingly sick. I also loved the mustard on the side. Altogether an absolutely brilliant little dish.

Koya, London 4

Kamo Roast – roast duck”. The little slivers of roast duck weren’t half bad, but after the kakuni it was a bit disappointing.

Koya, London 7

Octopus and spring onion with yuzu miso”. Another from the specials board, the octopus were soft and tender but the miso was a touch overpoweringly salty.

Ahh finally, we get to tuck into the udon itself. The menu it handily very well organised into the different combinations of udon available. You can get the udon Atsu-Atsu, Hiya-Atsu or Hiya-Hiya where Atsu=hot and Hiya=cold; so Atsu-Atsu (hot-hot) means hot udon in a hot broth and so on. The waitress explained that serving cold udon in a hot broth (Hiya-Atsu) means the udon itself is a little chewier than if it was hot (Atsu-Atsu) and preference is dependent on the customer’s individual taste.

Atsu-Atsu, Niku – beef”. I wanted to try one of their more basic types so sample their broth but felt I needed some meat involved so I compromised with this. The broth felt quite simple at first with a light undercurrent of the beef taste within. It was also very clear and light, making it very tempting to drink it all down. The udon itself was very good too with a great chewy and slightly sticky consistency. I did note that some strands of the udon were slightly deformed but I guess you can’t complain too much about that.

Koya, London 5

Atsu-Atsu, Kinoko – mushrooms with walnut miso”. The PigPig’s choice, this sounds like something I would absolutely hate. Surprisingly, I liked it even more than my beef choice. There was ample mushroom flavour in the soup while the walnut miso brought with it some salty, sweet and nuttyness making for a completely new but mouth-watering experience.

Koya, London 6

In fact, the PigPig liked it so much she ordered the same broth again on our second visit, but this time using cold udon (Kinoko Hiya-Atsu).

Koya, London 9

Hiyashi Buta Miso”. I also tried one of their cold udons; a bowl of cold udon topped with some miso-marinated pork garnished with some sesame seeds, seaweed and spring onion. It also came with some light soya based sauce to drizzle over the udon. I thought just the soya sauce and udon along with the garnishing were great on its own and kinda regretted having the pork along for the ride as it was quite salty (maybe I needed to mix it up a bit more). The cold udon was definitely chewier compared to its hot brethren and makes for a different experience.

Koya, London 8

Altogether, the bill came up to just under £20 a head per meal but we didn’t order any drinks. Service throughout was fairly quick and prompt and the staff seemed eager to help answer any questions. Still, it is a tiny restaurant with pretty small tables and I can’t get past their no reservations policy.

Food – 7.2
Service – 6.0
Atmosphere – 5.0
Value – 5.0

*sigh* part of me wishes they would expand the shop or open a branch but another part hopes they’ll stay right where they are because I don’t want anything to spoil their little magic. What they’re doing now is just right and I don’t want them to focus on the money, expand a further 4 shops and then the quality goes down the gutter. I’ll much rather they stay where they are and provide quality food at affordable prices.

Best bit: ah hah, I suppose some will say it’s the udon, but for me the kakuni was the best thing to eat there. Been bugging the PigPig to try to recreate it at home.
Worst bit: queuing!

49 Frith Street
Official website

Koya on Urbanspoon

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