Sorry for the long absence, peeps. I've been working on an interesting piece, which still needs some attention. In the mean time, Frangelico and I were in Soho last night, for a press launch of a place I can't talk about yet (online press embargo until Thursday, you see). After the event-that-shall-not-be-named, we thought we'd head to nearby Koya, a Japanese restaurant that's become hugely popular in a very short space of time.
Koya's specialty is udon, which is made fresh in-store every day. You can get it atsu-atsu (hot udon with hot soup - the dashi is made fresh daily too), hiya-atsu (cold udon with hot soup on the side), or hiya-hiya (you work it out). It's very hard to find good udon in London, so I'm not surprised at how this place has taken off. The quality of the udon's texture rivals my previous best-find at Defune (although the taste at Defune remains unbeaten).
To truly appreciate the texture, you'll have to order the cold udon. That way, the broth's flavour and heat don't interrupt the experience. With a first impression of unctuousness, this udon soon tells you that it has bite too - and this is the real test. Standard London udon can resemble some of the thick, white mee at hawker stalls in Singapore - a processed filler that doesn't resist and that doesn't go anywhere - or it can be uniformly thick all the way through. At Koya, there's dimension to the bite. The flavour of the udon is also noteworthy, with a subtle hint of wheat, trumping the bland noodles on offer elsewhere. Having said all that of the cold udon, I think the once was enough to understand the texture and flavour profile. All subsequent indulgences have reverted to the hot version, which you can't beat for overall satisfaction. The pork and miso atsu-atsu is my favourite.
Pork and miso udon
The sides and specials are good too. Our various visits have taken in earthy baby octopus, sweet and oily pork belly, venison, green salad with crisp lotus root, ohitashi with an almost meaty tofu paste, and very good tempura. The tempura is unusual for London, because it doesn't have an exterior like an onion bhajji (soft, squishy and doughy). The Koya tempura is like, well, an electron cloud - with all the individual tempura crisps held together by some mysterious force, crumbling on demand when you bite into it. They were a tad too generous with the batter on my most recent visit, though.
Tempura en relief against woven bamboo
Ohitashi with tofu paste
Really good thin and crisp lotus root
If you can, try to get a table overlooking the kitchen (there are only four seats there). It's fun to watch the udon boiling away vigorously every now and then in a huge basin, and you can also see how a patient line chef grates ginger on a dimpled ceramic plate. To complete the London story, I was told that the guy who gets the udon from loose flour to assembled drying stage is a large Polish man called 'Michael'.
Word of warning, there will be queues. Which isn't such a bad thing if the weather's good, and if there are friendly Singaporean students ahead of you in the queue who offer to share their Bengawan Solo pineapple tarts.
Bengawan Solo treasures
Thanks, guys - it was really sweet of you, and Frangelico loved it! His remark as he enjoyed it: "This is very fresh. Someone's been to Singapore recently."