Sometimes, a place comes along that I really wanted to love. There are always those places which seemed to be overwhelmed by its own hype (Bar Boulud, I’m looking at you), but there are other places which have a less heralded entry onto the London culinary map. Koya, a small restaurant specialising in udon, a thick Japanese wheat flour noodle, opened with minimal fuss but was soon attracting the attention of the local food lovers. Udon lovers rejoiced at the light and springy noodles, handmade and kneaded by feet every day in the basement. I wanted to love it...but...
There’s always a but. On my first visit, I was excited and the cold noodle, cold dipping sauce combination caught my eye. Served with a mixed prawn and vegetable tempura, I was salivating just at the thought of it. First, I was instructed that I had to try the onsen tomago. Named after the hot springs that the eggs are normally cooked in, what you get is an egg which has been cooked at a low temperature for a long time, giving the white a silky texture, whilst still cooked, with the yolk runny and rich. Served in dashi, a light fish stock, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was meant to do with this (shush those who thought “eat it”), but I gulped it down and was pleased with the interesting textures and flavour.
The udon was another interesting texture. Chewing on one cold was how I imagine chewing on an earthworm would feel like, with an entirely nondescript taste. The dipping sauce was light but very wet and just helped make something rather slimy into something really slippery. In all honesty, it wasn’t terrible; I just found it hard to understand how one person was expected to devour a plateful of these rubbery beasties. I hoped that the accompanying tempura would lighten my rather one dimensional meal, and although the change in texture (with a great crunch from an excellent and light tempura) was very welcome, the wholly intact poo chute of my prawn was not. The minute I lay my eyes on it, I just couldn’t face any more.
I put my poor meal down to my eternal nemesis, the bad menu choice, and was determined to get it right. The next time I returned, I was accompanied by my udon aficionado and decided that a choice of hot noodles and hot soup would change my mind about the place. The pork and miso (buta miso) combination incorporated the udon noodles in a steaming hot broth and generous portions of minced pork and miso paste, muddying the broth but intensifying the flavour. I was much happier with this, with the chewy udon noodles softening in the warm broth, but couldn’t help thinking that this was just a nice bowl of noodles.
I despair when I can’t quite see what everyone else does. But I guess that’s the beauty of being an individual, we all like and dislike different things. There is nothing wrong or offensive about Koya, just nothing that exciting. With mains around the £10 mark, it’s not going to break the bank, but go for the hot stuff, that’s definitely where it’s at.
Koya - 49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG