Ramen restaurants in London are now a dime a dozen. Once places for adventurous foodies to experience a true taste of Tokyo, they’re now old news. The Udon-ya is the new kid in town, and Koya Bar is expertly leading the way. With Simple dishes, clean flavours and immaculate presentation, authenticity runs through its veins.
There’s nothing fancy about the Koya dining experience. Step through the restaurant’s curtained entrance and you could be in any standard eatery on the streets of Toyko, Osaka or Kyoto. The petite bar seats 25 along a wooden kitchen counter, from where you can place your order directly with the chefs and watch as they prepare you’re meal, in true Japanese style.
Koya Bar is open from 8:30am, when they serve up a typical Japanese morning meal of rice porridge, miso soup, pickles, soft-boiled eggs and grilled fish. But the udon – served throughout the day – is the main event.
Udon noodles are the thick, white, worm-like kind (for wont of a better description!) Koya Bar makes its noodles daily, according to the traditional method. The dough, made from wheat flour, salt and water, is kneaded by hand, stretched and cut into thick lengths, then boiled and plunged into cold water to prevent further cooking, which gives the noodles their distinctive chewy texture. They are then re-heated when needed – or not as is the case with their cold udon dishes.
Keen as always to try something unusual, I ordered the cold udon with cold sauce for pouring (hiya-hiya). You can also get cold udon with cold sauce for dipping (not quite sure what the difference would be here, apart from the inevitability that I would drop the slippery suckers into the sauce, splashing myself and any other nearby diners), hot udon in a hot broth (atsu-atsu) and cold udon with hot sauce (hiya-atsu). Each preparation slightly alters the texture of the noodles – the more they are exposed to heat, the softer they become.
I chose a topping of sweet fried tofu and fresh spring onion (£8.40). And the dish came with a rather ambitious lump of wasabi stuck to the side of the bowl, which eventually slid like an avalanche into the noodles beneath. But I found that if I didn’t stir the whole piece into the liquid, it dissolves just enough to give a little heat and add yet another layer of flavour to the profoundly umami broth.
My faithful dining companion is more of a traditionalist, and went for a hot udon dish, although the waiter managed to persuade her to try cold noodles with her hot broth, which would have a springier texture. She chose the pork and miso topping (£11.80), in an intensely meaty broth. The pork was melt-in-the-mouth.
The udon may well be the main event at Koya Bar and I couldn’t fault either of our dishes, but the tempura (12.80) stole the show at our meal. Succulent king prawns, soft pumpkin, waxy mushroom and fragrant fennel, coated in a stunningly light and crisp batter – sheer perfection. As a rule, I’m not a fan of fried food, but I could eat this everyday. It was certainly the best tempura I have ever tried, and may well be one of the best dishes I have ever had the pleasure to eat.
50 Frith Street
Open 8:30-22:30 (Mon-Wed), 8:30-23:00 (Thurs & Fri), 9:30-23:00 (Sat), 9:30-22:00 (Sun)