I tried to get into Koya once, many months ago when it was freezing cold only to be told I would have to wait outside for at least half an hour. I took my empty belly and disappointment down to Chinatown and drowned my sorrows in roast duck and sweet and sour pork. Now with the sun making it's usual peek-a-boo appearance I lugged a sister and nephew to slurp down some noodles and nourishing broth.
After days of chugging down Italian, Lebanese, gallons of taramaslata, lusciously beautiful anchovy stuffed olives, Turkish delights, handmade chocolates, wobblingly creamy burrata, roast dinners with gloriously crunchy roast spuds in beef dripping ... it was time to take it easy and rest ourselves and Koya seemed like the ideal place to do so. Serene and orderly as only a Japanese restaurant can be, we managed to bag ourselves a seat before the lunch crowd arrived. Truth be told it hadn't been very hard to navigate ourselves around London on the days following the troubles (except Oxford Street ... shoppers have no fear except the thought of not bagging a bargain). Specialising in fresh udon noodles, Koya has intrigued me ever since I heard about its opening. I like udon - big, fat and so slurp-able. I was ready to enjoy myself.
Our side order of Kakuni (£6.20) was the first to arrive. Whilst I'm not a big fan of roasted pork belly, I love it braised. It reminds me of all those lovely fatty Chinese belly stews I grew up on. Taste wise this braised pork belly in cider tasted fine, homely. But totally lacking the expected excitement. The pork could also have done with a touch longer in the pot for it to reach that absolutely melting tender point.
The next to arrive was another side - Yasai Ten Mori (£7.70). The assortment of vegetables were delicately battered and deep fried, this was a plate of loveliness. It came with it's own little dish of condiments to add to the dipping sauce - grated mooli/daikon, sesame seeds and chopped spring onion. So pretty.
My steaming bowl Tempura Udon (£9.30) arrived with a humongous battered prawn perched on top. For a second a negative, "I hope that isn't all batter!" streamed through my brain. Oh how wrong I was. It was indeed all prawn with a good crunchy exterior. A touch too greasy but forgivable. The broth was clean. Probably to balance the greasiness of the tempura but I would have liked a little more 'ummph' to the soup. My sister, C, took quite a liking to it and happily swapped with me halfway through.
C's choice of Kinoko Hiya-Atsu (£10.80) of cold udon with hot mushroom broth with a side of walnut miso was, to my taste, a little odd. I absolutely adored the mushroom broth - all it's lovely umami goodness, by itself. I though the walnut miso odd and not at all enjoyable but C disagreed, happily slurping it down. Another oddity for me about this dish was the notion of the cold udon/hot broth. Dipping one into the other just made for a lukewarm dish. It's really not for me. But I would happily order that broth again.
The star of the meal had to be my nephew's Niku (£9.30), hot udon in hot broth with beef. It took ages to arrive, well after the other 2 mains and the hungry boy was definitely not impressed by the wait. But for this dish I would happily return to Koya .. and perhaps wait half an hour in the cold. The broth was all beefy goodness with the deliciousness of a generous hand of ginger. It was warming and hearty. And would probably have done well with an extra order of poached egg.
Despite my declaration of love for the udon noodle, I'm not sure if I'm a big fan of fresh udon. It was chewy and for my first mouthfuls very enjoyable. It wasn't until C pointed out that it was a little too doughy, too heavy that I realised she was right. I think it's still going to be the packet stuff for me. But for a bowl of Niku all to myself, I'll definitely be going back to Koya.
49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG