Friday, 1 November 2013

Koya, light lunch in Soho

Social networking is great, and many of you will know that I am a big user of social networks. However, I still believe that nothing beats socialising for real: proper, old fashioned in-the-flesh meetings. 

I have been in touch with, and known the very lovely Kavey of the Kavey Eats blog for some time. When we last bumped into each other we didn't have much time for a proper chinwag. So we agreed to meet up for a foodies afternoon of grazing, scoffing and natter.

We were both keen to go somewhere neither of us had been to before. Kavey came up with the suggestion of Koya. I recently bought a mighty tome published by Phaidon called "Where Chefs Eat". It's a huge and ambitious book where loads of prominent and respected chefs were asked to give details of their favourite restaurants. 

Koya was featured in the book, with a glowing recommendation, having been suggested by 11 chefs. "Radiating a low-key authenticity, Koya's udon noodles - made on site in the traditional way, served with umami-rich stocks and a range of toppings - would hold its own back in Japan." Naturally, I was keen to go as a result.

Koya doesn't take reservations, so we didn't have the option of booking a table. Lunch service starts at 12. Kavey suggested we meet at the restaurant fifteen minutes early. I was surprised, but given that her knowledge of the restaurant scene is excellent, trusted her. We sat on a bench outside the window, waiting for midday. Slowly, small groups of people started congregating. We were let in at noon, and half the tables were instantly full. On a Monday lunchtime! By half past, the place was full. Very impressive!

We decided to get a warming pot of tea (£4.20 for 2) while we studied the menu and decided what to have. The weather had taken a turn for the worst, and hot tea was just what we needed to drive the chill out of us. 

The blackboard of specials is something that repays good investigation. We found ourselves utterly torn between the regular menu dishes and the choice of specials, which cover all of the types of food served at Koya, from pickles to soups to sides. 

We ordered one of the specials, the Nuka pickled carrot and turnip, £2.90. 

The pickles arrived, looking like art on a plate. The colours were vibrant and lush. The carrot had been washed, but not peeled and was firm, with lots of crunch and sweetness. The turnip, again, washed but not peeled, had retained a very pleasing shape. I particularly liked the hint of the turnip tops which had been retained. These veggies had been very lightly and delicately pickled, so that they still tasted very fresh, like all the nutrients were still alive and kicking. I'll confess that I didn't think they represented great value for money, they were devoured in a matter of seconds, but they were tasty and beautifully presented.

Another special was crab meat and egg on sweetcorn kakiage tempura for £8.90.

This dish was pleasant; conflicting textures of soft, creamy and crispy. However, I felt a little let down that there was so little crab and far too much egg. This was a dish where egg was the main event rather than crab, and the description had led me to believe the opposite was the case. 

We then had to choose what kind of main dish to have.  We thought about the Donburi dishes (rice in a bowl), but knew that Koya's speciality was udon. We ruled the Donburi out quickly, although we would love to try it another time. 

So, which kind of Udon noodles to have? There were 3 types of Udon available. Atsa-atsa udon which are hot udon noodles in hot broth, with several varieties available (plain, tofu, pork and miso, mackerel, chicken, mixed seaweed, beef, mushroom and walnut miso and duck). These were proving very popular with other diners. However, noodle soups are something we've both had plenty of times before, so we decided against this set of options. Next to consider were the Hiya-Atsu udon; cold udon in hot broth. Again, several varieties were available (plain, pork and miso, chicken, beef, mushroom walnut miso, duck, vegetable tempura, fish and vegetable tempura). Finally there was the Hiya-Hiya udon; cold udon with sauce for dipping or pouring. There were 4 dipping options; plain, sesame sauce, vegetable tempura, fish and vegetable tempura. The pouring sauce options were: fried tofu and spring onion, pork and miso, smoked mackerel and green leaves, mixed seaweed).

It was a tough choice, but we decided that the Hiya-Hiya style was the most unfamiliar to us so should be the first dish we went for. We chose the Zaru Gomodare, cold udon with cold dipping sauce of sesame, £8.10. 

Here are the udon noodles, topped with shredded seaweed sprinkles.

The udon noodles themselves don't look like an awful lot of food, do they? However, they are very substantial! They are dense and chewy, but in a good way. They aren't bland. They are very different from any kind of udon noodle I have had before. 

The sesame sauce was rich, creamy and packed with sesame flavours. 

It hadn't been watered down at all and was vivid with sesame flavours. When coated with the sesame sauce, which clung to them perfectly, the udon noodles had so much more flavour than you believe you have any right to expect.

The Tanuki tempura crispies are a great little sprinkle to add a new texture to the mix. 

This is an extra topping, only 60p.

Tomago egg (£2).

The tomago egg was not something I tucked into. I left this for Kavey. I don't like eggs, which I have been advised is because I have a mild allergy to them. I don't get ill, but have been informed by a specialist is the reason for my lifelong ambivalence to them. 

I could see that these had been carefully soft boiled and retained a high degree of runny middle with a just cooked egg white. Kavey enjoyed the tomago egg very much, so I would say if you love soft boiled eggs or the marinaded eggs on the top of ramen at say, Bone Daddies or Shoryu, then this is for you.

We had a very enjoyable lunch. The service at Koya is very friendly. We were shown a degree of kindness and care which is uncommon, such was its genuineness. We had heavy bags with us, which we were allowed to store. The check on how we were enjoying our food came with genuine concern. And the table staff are full of effervescence in all of their customer interaction. They were busy, and could have treated us as a hassle. Rather, they seemed to really like seeing people come out to enjoy themselves.

I will be going back.

Snigdha and Kavey paid honest lucre for their lunch.

Koya on Urbanspoon


  1. Great review. I felt like I was there. Thank you!

    1. Hello Charles (aka Sid)

      Thank you very much for such a lovely comment. I've been trying to up my game with restaurant reviews to give more of a feel of the place. I hope I succeeded!

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. It's really appreciated!

      Very best wishes

  2. I have been onto their sites look for veggie options following this read! I felt like I was at your table xx

    1. Dear Deena

      Thanks for your comment - I'm trying harder with my restaurant reviews to capture the atmosphere and flavour of the experience. I'm hoping it's beginning to work.

      There is at least one veggie dish under each category of noodle. Although for people who are vegetarian and don't eat nuts, there may be a highly restricted choice.

      If you do visit, please let me know whether you like it.

      It's a pleasure to hear from you.

      warm regards

  3. Absolutely spot on review of our lunch, it was a lovely afternoon!

    I agree that the pickles were lovely but expensive for the portion, and that the kakiage could have done with more crab, tasty though it was - especially given the price/ portion.

    Udon noodles and sesame sauce were super, as were the sprinkles and that lovely egg!

    Great post, Snig!

    1. Dear Kavey,

      I had such a great afternoon and I am delighted that you enjoyed it too!

      I am also pleased and more than a little relieved that you think the review accurately reflects our experience! I wondered what you'd thought of it - so thanks for your comments and feedback.

      Obviously, I am full of anticipation for your forthcoming Japan blog posts!! :D

      Thanks for commenting, and for reading as ever, Kavey!

      with love