On Wednesday, Koya won ‘Best Cheap Eats’ at the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2011. To celebrate its success, and the end of the week, my colleague K and I decided to make the short walk from our office and have lunch there today – what a great decision.
Since its opening 18 months ago, Koya has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best Japanese Udon restaurants in London. After walking through the noren (doorway curtain), we were quickly seated in the bright, small room by the extremely amicable waiter. Even though the food selection is hung on the walls, it wasn’t long until we had our own menu, which divided the main Udon dishes into Atsu-Atsu (hot Udon in hot broth), Hiya-Atsu (cold Udon in hot broth) and Hiya-Hiya (cold Udon with cold sauce).
Feeling hungry and adventurous, we decided to start with one of the specials – Girolle, Mooli and Komatsuna leaves braised in Dashi. Other than the Girolle mushrooms, I had no idea what we were eating, but it was full of flavour and left us eager to try our main courses. I have now googled the remaining ingredients and, in case you’re interested, the Mooli, also known as Daikon (meaning ‘large root’ in Japanese) is a mild flavoured, very large, white East Asian radish. Komatsuna is a type of leaf vegetable in a similar strain to a turnip and Dashi is the cooking stock.
For main, I chose the Tori Atsu-Atsu (hot Udon in hot broth with chicken), along with a poached egg. When it arrived, I was surprised to be given an unshelled cold egg, but when I cracked it open (or ungracefully put my thumb through it), I quickly saw that the egg had been poached in its shell – very clever. At first glance, the Atsu-Atsu looked slightly bland, but as soon as I had my first mouthful I was struck by its depth of flavour – the broth tasted delicious, the chicken was moist and the noodles were cooked to perfection.
K went for Tempura Atsu-Atsu, which had similar noodles and broth, but came with an enormous prawn on the top. It should be clear by now that I’m a massive seafood fan, so I was instantly jealous when I saw the lightly battered prawn in K’s bowl. Luckily, K is a sharer and, after seeing my eyes widen, kindly offered me a bit of the batter, which was not only crispy, but had inherited a certain sweetness from the prawn.
If I’d been wearing more forgiving clothes, I might have finished my bowl of noodles and moved on to dessert, but sadly, my stupidly tight dress got the better of me and I had to put down my chopsticks a third of the way through. Koya lived up to its recent accolade, costing less than £25 for both of us. I certainly intend to go back to try more of its extensive menu, so long as I remember to wear something with an expanding waistband.
KOYA, 49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG