During meal time, you see the queue before you can see the shopfront of Koya. What is the crowd magnet? Fresh Udon.
Koya is one of the few restaurants in London where you can get this white beauty at a reasonable price. It is served in 3 different ways: Hiya-Hiya (cold Udon with cold sauce to dip), Hiyashi Udon (cold Udon with cold sauce to pour) and Hiya-Atsu (cold Udon with hot broth).
Koyo’s Udon is fantastic! As it was fresh, it was less starchy and more chewy than the pre-made ones. It is as good as what you can find in Japan. Serving Udon with cold dipping sauce is pretty common in Japanese restaurants here in London. In Koya, you can have it plain, in sesame sauce, with tempura. Koya’s dipping sauce has sesame and spring onion (see photo above). It had a hint of sweetness but it was not too salty. It is a great complement to Udon. A light batter was used for our prawn and vegetable tempura. It is a nice difference.
I was fascinated by Hiya-Atsu as I never had noodles served this way before. Though it actually makes perfect sense as this is the best way to make sure the Udon will not be overcooked by the broth by the time it is eaten. At home, we always run cold water through hot noodles when they are ready to stop it from over-cooking.
Koya serves a great range of broths- plain, curry, with meat (beef, chicken, duck, pork and miso paste or smoke mackerel and green leaves), vegetable (fried tofu and spring onion, mixed seaweeds or mushrooms with walnut miso) or with tempura. We tried the one with chicken. The broth was garnished beautifully with finely chopped spring onion (photo above). It was hot enough to warm the cold Udon quickly. Disappointingly, the broth was very salty. I coud not bring myself to drink it at all and I could only use the hot broth as a dip. What a shame!
We had a couple of other dishes from the daily menu. Radish & konbu seaweed picked in soya sauce was a bit too salty and bitter for my liking. Watercress & mushroom with yuzu vinaigrette was refreshing and light.
From the regular menu, we also ordered kakuni (braised pork belly with cider). It was mostly tough and did not melt in my mouth, as I expected it to. It was probably because it was not cooked slowly enough.
Koya certainly serves much better food than popular Wagamama (I never understand why people eat there anyway). But I do not consider the latter as authentic Japanese so technically they are in different categories. The selling point of Koya is its Udon. The side dishes did not sparkle but the experience was interesting as we sat at the Chef’s table.
Well, we were no VIPs. When the waiter asked us if we would mind taking the table right by the kitchen, it sounded like a second grade table. Little did she know that this type of table is actually a privilege customers pay extra for in some posh restaurants. It turned out to be a much more comfortable and entertaining table than the ones in the main dining area. It was great theatre! We were absorbed by the energy and precise coordination of the team.
However, since Koya has a no booking policy (we waited for 30 minutes to get a table), it might be purely by chance that you get to sit at the Chef’s table.
We got a table pretty much straight away when we went there the second time (we thought we were lucky!). Unfortunately, the food took nearly 45 minutes to arrive. We asked the waitress to check if the order was in after 20 minutes and we were told it was fine. When the food finally arrived, we were told that the reason why it took so long was because we ordered tempura- All the other food, including Udon of any form, had to wait as a result. We wished the waitress told us this at the time of order so that we could make an informed decision. (I was starving!) Unfortunately, the waitress did not give us any warning at all, nor did she explain this to us when we asked her to check the order.
The tempura was very oily- freshly made but it was of poor quality. Koya is good for its noodles and noodles ONLY. We tried other dishes but they have mostly been disappointing. For the amount of time I have to spend on waiting in order to get the food, I would rather go to Rosa’s nearby.Koya
A meal for two including a pot of green tea, £42 incl. service
49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG