Saturday 1 December 2012

Koya: a Trend Setter

London is a trendy city.  I don't mean that to sound like it is fashionable.  It is, but that is not what I mean.  Rather, it is full of trends.  Things come and go in the blink of an eye.  Everyone is always looking for the next "thing".  Burgers have been particularly enduring.  Fried Chicken and Ceviche more of a flash in the pan.  Unlike in smaller towns, the population is large enough to support these moving feasts.

The latest trend is for, how shall I say this, Japanese noodely soups - Udon and Ramen places are taking over (although I am sure that the Japanese aficionados amongst you are now standing aghast at how I can combine the two into one "trend" - aghast noted).  People are at last starting to learn that what is served in Wagamama is not worth the pennies - there is something better out there.

As with everything, they say that the original is the best.  And the positive grandfather of this movement (taken forward recently by Tonkotsu and Bone Daddies) is Koya - it opened way back in 2010! So, having recommended it (on the back of others' reviews) to two friends recently visiting London, I thought it was about time I went along to see what all the fuss was about.

As a self-respecting Soho establishment, Koya does not accept reservations.  Such a bugbear of mine, although in Koya's case I can see why, people don't really linger over noodles so turnover is high.  Nevertheless we waited a good half an hour for a table - avoid 8pm!  By nine, people walked straight in.  First impressions were negative - waiter's response to a rough estimate of waiting time was bolshy, sarcastic, arrogant (some vague reference to knowing the lottery results) - an inauspicious start.

Once in we dived straight into the menu - it's simple really, two choices, then additions. Noodles, hot or cold?  Broth, hot or cold?  Additions included prawn tempura, mushrooms and walnut miso, beef or other daily specials.  There are also some small plates to top up.

We went for a mixed seaweed, hot broth/hot noodles, and a pork and miso, hot broth/cold noodles. Then we added toppings of a poached egg and tempura batter.  We also shared some roast duck.

The duck was served cold with a warm, mirin-laden broth and spring onions - very tasty, especially the broth, although perhaps a little on the expensive side at seven quid.  Great wasabi though!

The seaweed noodles tasted of the sea - fresh and vibrant.  Some of the (three types of Welsh) seaweed was overcooked and mushy, however.  The poached egg which comes in its shell - you crack it into the noodles yourself, how fun - didn't really work with this one.

I had the pork and miso with cold noodles.  In their cold form, the noodles really came into their own - you really started to appreciate the skill that had gone into making them (apparently by foot, as is the traditional way).  With just the right amount of bite, they were some of the best Udon noodles I have ever had (including in Japan).  The broth had a great depth of flavour - but one small pork meatball was a little miserly.

I guess the question is, now that I have been to Koya myself, will I continue to recommend it?  In a word, yes!  Next time I would probably pass on the poached egg and tempura batter - unnecessary additions.  But the Udon themselves are quite simply the best about.  

Koya on Urbanspoon


  1. Mmm. I am one of the aghast! I think your linkage of Koya to the recent ramen boom is a bit tenuous. It's not just the merger of noodle types, but what happened to 2011? Did the trend take a gap-year before coming back in 2012 with a vengeance?

    1. Let's call it a slow-burner... and also let's not forget that the current burger mania started with a pop up by MeatEasy way back in 2010!


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