Tuesday, 25 May 2010
Koya, 49 Frith Street, Soho, London, W1D 4SG
The first time I knew about Koya was through the Metro (free London paper). The reviewer was quite impressed with the place, so we thought, why not hop on the udon-wagon and find out what all the hype is about. Not being an uber fan of udon (I mean, I like it, but then again, I like alot of things), I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d even understand they hype if it was put on the table.
Gotta try new things, hey.
Once we’d got in and were sat down at a table right by the window, a queue started forming outside the restaurant. There’s something about restaurants with queues that make me feel like I have to rush through my food, but the good thing about Koya is that they don’t make you feel rushed in any way at all.
When a friendly waiter came by our table to take our orders, I asked the usual question whenever I don’t know what to order.
‘So, what’s your favourite item here?’
To which the reply normally isn’t ‘Most of them, I own the place.’
‘Okay, erm, so, what’s the most popular thing here?’
‘Well, people usually go for the pork miso udon.’
‘Right, I’ll have the prawn tempura udon, please.’
The restaurant is brightly lit, and during the daytime, the big glass windows let in a lot of light. There is almost no decor in the place, which, in itself, is decor befitting the minimalistic Japanese ambience, and the menu is replicated in a larger form on the wall.
We ordered pots of tea, which tasted really green and like the sea – exactly how good green tea should taste, in my opinion.
While waiting for the food, we fiddled around with the stuff on the table. Hey, the hungry people outside were staring at us, we had to look busy. So we took the little pot of chilli powder and started playing around with the very tiny spoon in it.
Then, the £5.20 ‘kakuni’ (braised pork belly with cider) came along, and all chopsticks dove in. At first, my friends were slightly hesitant at even trying the stuff, mainly due to the fat on the pieces of pork. After a little persuasion (I didn’t want to try too hard in case they then liked it too much), they were convinced enough to try a little bite, and I was very impressed with the quality of the braised meat, and the amount of flavour the meat had managed to absorb during the braising process. Like it.
But just as we were getting ready to be dazzled by another dish, the £2 ‘tsukemono’ (home-made pickle) came along and kinda left us feeling ‘erm’. When we ordered this, we, or maybe I, expected the traditional style pickle that we usually get in other Japanese restaurants; the brightly coloured, crunchy, slightly sweet pickles.
This version was very much Chinese cabbage which had been pickled in some vinegar, and tasted, just sour. Nothing too great here, and definitely not worth £2.
Two of us at the table ordered the prawn tempura udon (£9). Call me a diva, but for £9, I kinda expected more than one prawn. Indeed, one prawn. OK, so maybe the udon was really well-made, nice and chewy, and the broth meaty and everything else, but come on, one prawn? ONE PRAWN?
This also brings us back to the OTHER ‘one prawn restaurant’.
How was the (one) prawn? It was alright, not too soggy even though it was in the soup, and tasted like what prawns should taste like. How were the noodles? Like I said above, nice and chewy, but my focus that meal was to try and make that prawn last as long as I could. Each few slurps of noodles were duly rewarded with a tiny nibble of the prawn, and somehow I managed to make that prawn last to about halfway through the noodles. Maybe it’s just me who didn’t find the noodles all that enthralling, and needed the pointless prawn to keep me entertained.
One of the guys ordered the £8.50 ‘niku’ (beef) udon, which sure looked a lot more substantial than the prawn dish.
Hey, even the £7.50 ‘kizami’ (fried tofu with spring onion) udon had more slices of tofu in it (false economics, I know, as tofu can’t even begin to be compared to prawns, but I was just trying to illustrate the point).
After that slightly disappointing dinner – and that is mainly because I felt like I wasn’t getting value for what I paid for – we decided to fill ourselves up with some sweet stuff. Patisserie Valerie is quite close by to Koya, and since the other Chinese dessert places were full, we decided to have some cake.
This is one of those must-haves whenever we go to PatVal. The tarte au citron is excellent here, with a thick, indulgent, teeth-sticking layer of lemon curd, sitting snugly inside a crumbly pastry cup.
Chocolate cake mousses which were quite nice (slightly too chocolatey, if you can ever be too chocolatey).
Would I recommend Koya? Still kinda mixed reviews on my part for this one. I reckon all the hype must mean it’s good at what it does, but having tried it out, I wasn’t too impressed by it. Noodle-rs will probably tell me I’m all wrong and that it’s excellent, but hey, why don’t you go try it out for yourselves and let me know if you like it.
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