Koya, London

Japan is one of my favourite countries in the world and I am very fortunate to visit that country three times in the past ten years of my life. While I was in Tokyo in July, I stumbled upon a lovely home made udon eatery in Shinjuku and ever since the temperature dropped in England, I found myself craving a traditional piping hot bowl of udon. And boy, am I glad I found such a place in London…

I’ve heard of Koya since it opened its doors at 49 Frith Street (taking over Alastair Little) in 2010. However I’ve never had the opportunity to dine there. I guess it’s mostly because I really dislike queuing for food, especially in the cold miserable British weather. Koya is one of those places with a constant queue snaking outside its premises. Thus, whenever I see the queue at Koya, I’d just turn away and dine elsewhere. So one day after having afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse with my friend (reviews soon!), we passed Koya and to my surprise, the queue was relatively short!

The wait for a table was about 15 minutes, which wasn’t really that long I suppose. I usually don’t like counter seats, but I was glad to sit at the counter in Koya as I was able to catch all the action that was going on “backstage”. Every one in Koya spoke in Japanese, even the non-Japanese wait staff! Made me feel like I was in Japan again.

Udon is the first Japanese dish that I’ve had in my life. According to my parents, whenever we went to a Japanese restaurant (which was pretty much a fortnightly affair) I ate nothing but tempura udon – It wasn’t until I was about 8 years old till I “ventured out” and tried other Japanese dishes. So needless to say, my expectations are pretty high. What makes Koya so special? From what I gather, the wheat used to make the udon are imported from Japan. The dashi stock and udon are hand made daily using the traditional method at the eatery itself. So did the udon at Koya live up to its name? Well, I think it did. I had the Hiya-Atsu (cold udon with hot broth) with a side of tempura). The noodles were fresh, smooth, and chewy (or as Asians put it, very QQ). The cold noodles were not too hard and the elasticity remained after dipping in the hot broth. The udon did not stick together (which is often what happens after the noodles become cold/old) and the bouncy texture remained right till the very last stand of udon. Neither did the udon become soggy and limp towards the end. The noodles were very good. However, I can’t say the same for the dipping sauce. I think the broth lacked depth and flavour. It tasted a bit weak and was a bland despite the spring onions, sesame and minced ginger. Maybe it was because I ate pretty early (an hour after Koya opened for dinner) and the broth needed to simmer longer…

Time Out names the Onsen Tamago as one of the top 100 dishes in the UK, and after eating it, I think that it is worthy of its title. The onsen tamago was cooked perfectly. I’m pretty sure it was not boiled in hot springs but it was done very well nevertheless. The egg white was light and not under cooked. The yolk was nice and runny yet cooked long enough so it wouldn’t break when you pick it up with your chopsticks.

The Kakuni was THE BEST PART of the meal. Maybe it was because I have not had kakuni in a long long time but I thought it was really good. The braised pork was tender and melts in your mouth. The fat did not taste like fat at all. I didn’t feel unhealthy eating the fat and the fats did not smell “porky” at all (sorry for the lack of adjectives). It was very very tasty and I’ve not had anything like it in London (yet).

I had the home made hot ginger drink instead of matcha, and thought it was really tasty. Reminded me of home.

The only thing that it stopping me from returning to Koya more often is the price. The damage done that night was £29.50, which is really really pricey considering how this meal would have cost me under £8 in Japan. But I’d definitely be back on a cold winter night when I am craving udon!

Ambience: 2/5 Forks (eat-and-go kind of place)
Service: 2.5/5 Forks
Food: 4/5 Forks

49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG

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