If Koya had ears, they would’ve been incandescent in the months since its low key opening back in April this year. Quiet the opening might have been, but within days cyberspace was awash with excited chatter as foodies across the capital and beyond sampled the deceptively simple noddle-centric menu.
Of course, the worry is, when you hear so many good things, can the place itself actually live up to the hype. And so it was with some excitement, tempered with more than a dash of trepidation, I found myself in a queue with a group that included Mr Noodles, Tom and Jen, Uyen and others, patiently waiting for table.
I should make a disclosure before I go any further. I like Udon noodles. In fact, I REALLY like udon noodles. There is just something so satisfyingly toothsome about them – all thick white and wriggly with just a dash of delightful stickiness.
The fact that the udon in Koya were hand- (well, foot-) made in the traditional Japanese manner only added to my nervous anticipation.
First impressions were good – the restaurant was simply decorated, low key and, while not hushed, was not over-loud either. As promised, the menu was almost entirely udon dishes with a raft of tempting sides, and few rice dishes for those who aren’t too keen on the worm like noodles.
Of the sides/starters, Kakuni (braised pork belly with cider) and Lenkon (green leaves and lotus root) salad were the picks, although kaiso mixed seaweed salad, and Kamo roast duck were tasty.
The pork belly was just right, making a strong bid for dish of the evening. It was all tasty intense meat that just about clung together, coming apart in unctuous strands in your mouth. The fat was soft, glutinous and decadently rich.
The lotus root came as crispy fried slices covered in sesame seeds and tasted, well lotus rooty, which is better than it sounds. The green leaves were lightly peppery and thedressing tart. It was a great start to the meal.
When it came to the main event, you could have almost any combination of hot or cold udon with hot broth or cold sauce (to pour or dip – the distinction is important). Just have a look at Koya’s menu to see the various combos.
We settled for udon in hot broth with beef, hot duck broth and hot pork and miso broth, both with cold noodles, udon with vegetable tempura and a duck and rice donburi. The beefy hot noodles were undoubtably the pick of the bunch. The beef was tasty and broth deeply flavoured with a real gingery edge to it. Real reviving stuff.
The pork and miso was intense, sweet and rich. It went well with the noodles, but became almost too much after a while. It would have been better a a starter sized dish. The duck broth was lovely and deeply flavoured, although not quite as good as the beef.
While the broths were tasty, it was the noodles themselves that stole the show. They had real bite and a wonderful elasticity to them. I would have been happy with a plain portion to noisily slurp my way through. The donburi was good, but it wasn’t close the the noodles or the pork belly.
So, expectations were fulfilled. Although with those noodles and the pork belly in cider, they could have served hot water instead of broth and I’d still have gone away happy.
Add some warm aromatic, floral sake and genmeicha and you have the making of a perfect evening. And for only £20 a head. If only more places followed the recipe of concentrating on a single type of food and constructing a menu around that. If Koya is anything to go by, it’s a recipe for surefire success.
49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG, firstname.lastname@example.org www.koya.co.uk