Review: Koya – An Authentic Udon Noodle House in Soho
Published 23 July 2010
Koya reminds me of some of the main reasons why I’ve stayed in London since graduating. There’s just so much good food here that I would miss if I was anywhere else, and because of its status as a melting pot of cultures, there’s an abundance of authentic restaurants from countries around the world.
Koya is a small Japanese restaurant that’s opened up on Firth Road in Soho, but its more than just a Japanese restaurant. It is an authentic udon-ya, a Japanese noodle bar specialising the thick white fat noodles known as udon. Over here in the UK we think of noodles as something quick and simple, symbolised by pot noodles, or more recently, the middle scale fast food Wagamama chain.
But in Japan, the udon noodle is a really important part of Japanese food culture, but udon-yas in every neighbourhood, and there is often much debate and competition between chefs at different udon-yas to produce the best bowl of noodles and dashi broth.
In Koya, the udon noodle is freshly handmade every day, taking up to 5 hours, with the wheat flour imported from Japan. The wheat is kneaded by feet apparently, in the traditional way, but fear not, everything is done to proper health and safety regulations, and I haven’t fallen ill either of the two times I have eaten at Koya!
While they do serve rice dishes and a small selection of starters, it is the noodles that you must try. Confusingly, there’s four different kinds:
- Hot udon noodles in hot broth
- Cold udon noodles with hot broth
- Cold udon noodles with a dipping sauce
- Cold udon noodles with a cold sauce to pour
For those who frequent Wagamama and the like, what you would have had is the traditional hot udon noodles in hot broth. The second option is a serving of chilled udon noodles with a separate bowl of soup, for you to soak the noodles in. The third option is chilled upon with a cold light soya sauce mixture, where you dip the udon in to give it some flavour. And the final option is cold upon noodles with a thicker saltier sauce which you have to mix with the noodles before eating. If you’re confused, don’t worry – none of the options are very out of the world, and if you like Japanese noodles, you’ll like any of the 4 options.
On my first visit, I had the Hiyashi Buta Miso (£8.50), which was pork and miso paste with cold udon and cold sauce to pour. While the noodles were slightly springy and surprisingly good, the sauce and miso paste were slightly salty, and the pork lacked any firm consistency to contrast with the noodle. My partner’s Niku Hiya-Atsu (£8.50), cold udon with hot broth and beef, was much better and more traditional, with the noodles served separately from the steaming bowl of dashi soup. Particularly recommended is adding a poached egg (£1.50) to the hot soup, as the still liquid egg yolk adds a richness to the soup base. We also tried the ten mori (£10.00), a mixture of prawn and vegetable tempura. The prawn tempura was literally the biggest I have ever had, massive king prawns wrapped in delicate tempura batter, and the flesh was very firm and juicy, a sign of extremely fresh prawns.
On our second visit, we had the Kakuni (£6.00), braised pork belly with cider, which came in a tapas size serving and was extremely tasty, with perhaps the only downside that it came with maybe too much fat and not enough meat. I decided to be more adventurous with my noodle choice this time round, ordering the Curry Udon (£9.00), which came with lightly fried aubergine. While the taste was good, I could sense it wasn’t Koya’s strong point, and one could have easily made it at home with a packet of Japanese sweet curry sauce that lines the shelves in Japanese supermarkets. My partner’s Niku (£8.50), beef with hot udon in hot broth, was a very traditional choice but well executed, with a very light but addictive broth and spring onion and minced ginger garnishing.
Verdict: The only downside of Koya is that when you leave, you end up wanting more! The noodle portions are generous considering that they are premium handmade udon noodles, however non-noodle lovers will find that each bowl comes with a very skimpy portion of meat or vegetable. Do order the prawn tempura, as it is really one of the best in London, even though the price is rather steep. In the winter, the hot ginger drink, which is home-made, goes very well with the meal, serving as a palate cleanser before and after your noodles.. Overall, don’t expect to have a cheap noodle meal at Koya, but rather its a way to experience true authentic udon noodles without having to go to Japan.
Cuisine: Traditional authentic Japanese Udon Noodle House
Price: £8-10 for a bowl of noodles, starters from £4-10
Address: Koya Noodle House, 49 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SG
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 12:00-15:00 / 17:30-22:30
Booking tel: Unfortunately, no reservations are taken for Koya
Official Website: www.koya.co.uk
Full menu can be downloaded in PDF here.