Thursday, 18 April 2013

Koya, Soho

Minimalist Japanese canteen interior at Koya

When Jamie and I recently visited London for our three year anniversary, we found ourselves disappointed by the restaurants we had been looking forward to the most. Koya, nestled in our dining itinerary between Michelin star dinners and over-hyped neighbourhood restaurants, ended up being our favourite meal. Having received recommendations from the foodie fountain of knowledge, Hoss, and the similarly wise chap whose blog writing I miss, FTTBYD, we were pretty confident it would be a winning lunch.

Knowing that ramen is suddenly all the rage in central London, I was concerned we'd have to wait for hours to get a table. Fortunately, my usually reliable sense of direction meant we ended up further away from Koya than we were in our original starting point, so we arrived not long before the end of lunch service, when the hipsters had already been fed. We had a brief wait but managed to bag a table right by the door. A note on doors: if I am ever lucky/foolish enough to open my own drinking/eating establishment, I may abolish doors. Lately, I find myself always placed at the table nearest them (which obviously means the owners think I look like a trustworthy person, or are taking bets on whether I'll do a runner). I get cold easily and sometimes I don't wear enough layers when eating out, as I naively expect restaurants to be warm. Any suggestions as to how punters will enter my bar/restaurant would be greatly appreciated as I am quite adamant that doors are a no-no.

Moving away from my ramblings - which Jamie will surely edit out - and on to the more important matter of the food. This was a toughie: we would be dining again in around 6 hours but I wanted to eat everything on the menu. Bloody rational Jamie prevented this, which I still hold against him, as I now have to wait 'til my next trip to London to eat more of that beautiful Japanese food. We started with one of their specials: char sui pork with apple and fennel salad. This was sooo beautiful, I could have eaten this ten times over. The salad perfectly balanced the fattiness of the pork although the carparccio-like slicing stopped it from feeling too artery-cloying, perfect!

Next up: I managed to persuade Jamie to go for the fried tofu with spring onion udon. I succeeded in this by initially suggesting the udon with mushroom and walnut miso then downsizing to tofu. (Despite being the most knowledgable non-chef person I know when it comes to food, Jamie has a child-like approach to mushrooms: "ew!" he screams when I try and put them near him). I wanted to try one of their simpler dishes to see whether it was still delicious: it bloody was! Their noodles took noodle to a whole 'nother level. (I'm not talking Dane Bowers' first band).

Super pink and juicy - just how I like 'em!

We also opted for another of their specials: (our favourite!) Hanger steak with juniper berries and pickled wild garlic. This was perfectly cooked and really tasty. Eaten with plain white rice, it was delightful. As hanger steak has a gamier taste than most other cuts of steak, the juniper - a traditional accompaniment to venison - worked really well and the pickled garlic was... green. And pickly.

Unfortunately, there's no more food for me to talk about. Again, blame Jamie. Despite being half his size, my eyes are definitely twice as big as both of our bellies, so they left feeling disappointed that they hadn't been better fed, though my stomach was feeling pretty sated. The service was generally attentive and discrete, and I absolutely LOVED the host who continued to seat people with 30 seconds to go before the kitchen closed. I know this because he kept telling people, "yes, you can come in but you have to order within 3 minutes... 2 minutes... 1 minute... you can't even look at the menu, you just have to order now!". He was brilliant.

If you haven't been to Koya and you're planning on visiting central London some time soon, GO!! Jamie and I loved it so much we immediately went in search of the nearest Japanese supermarket (which, incidentally, is only about a five minute walk away), and bought ourselves a huge packet of bonito flakes just so we could make our own udon broths at home. (We did, and they were good, but not as good as Koya...)

Cute dog running to Koya to get his lunch.

49 Frith Steet, Soho
London W1D 4SG
020 7434 4463

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