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

Koya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Yalla Yalla, Soho

On a recent trip to London, I met with my friend Hannah for some early evening drinks and dinner. I had left the decision-making of where to dine entirely up to her, which isn't something I usually feel comfortable with (note: not just for Hannah, but for anyone!). She'd assured me that she'd been there before and that the food was good. I'd been informed it was Lesbanese street food, so I was expecting something a little different to the loud music and bright lights of Yalla Yalla, hidden just far enough behind Oxford street to give it some breathing space from the hoards of tourists beating each other up with their huge Topshop and Uniqlo bags.

We decided to choose entirely from the mezze section of the menu as we are both secret fatties (see 2007: us as 16 year olds at Leeds festival eating Dairy Milk chocolate bars dipped into hot chocolate for breakfast) and like to try as much as is humanly possible. We were quite sensible this time and managed to reign ourselves in, which is also a good thing given the amount of pitta you end up filling-up on.

I was disappointed that they were out of Jawaneh Meshoue (chicken wings) but were told we could substitute it for another dish on the menu and have it at the same price. Cheapskates that we were (especially after drinking £8 cocktails on Wardour street), we went for the most expensive dish on the menu, the Lebanese equivalent of fritto misto - Makale Samak - sitting on a bed of crispy aubergine and garnished with pomegranate seeds, the latter a great trick in pronouncing something Lebanese. (I really wanted to try the chicken livers but Hannah's a wimp when it comes to stuff like that, so I'll blame her for what followed.)

At first, this dish was tasty, but as the batter wilted and the grease became more evident, it actually wasn't that nice. It was also a huge portion, particularly in comparison to the other dishes (normally, not a bad thing, but we couldn't finish this).

Baba Ghannouj - aubergine dip - was as good as any I've had. Garnised with mint and the compulsary pomegranate seeds.

Soujoc - essentially spicy sausage - insisted I order it. This lovely little morsel of meat can be found in an array of cuisines, from Turkish to Bulgarian. I first had it simply fried in Northern Cyprus with halloumi and pitta. This one came with tomatoes and parsley and was delicious; a dish that's hard to mess up.

Halloum Meshoue - oh, how I love halloumi. There isn't a better - or more fun - cheese. The squeaky sound it makes when slightly overcooked ensured a welcome introduction to cheese when the only other stuff I'd eat as a nine year old was mild cheddar. I'm sure this was probably fairly bog standard stuff but it was bloody tasty.

Apologies for the slight shake on the camera. Of course, we had to order their falafel, although I sort of wish we hadn't. They were huge, and definitely filling, and the accompanying salad was rather tasty but they weren't impressive, particularly not for a Lebanese restaurant. I'd rather eat the ones from Go Falafel at the end of Rusholme; now they do a good falafel.

The best dish of the night, and also the most unphotogenic, were some lovely little pastries - Samboussek Lahme - filled with lamb, onion confit and roasted pine nuts. These were delicious and I could have eaten several of them.... think: a dry lamb tagine encased in pastry. Greggs need to get these on their menu now, ha! I should also mention that you are given pitta and pickles as standard.

The food wasn't expensive, but nor was it cheap for food of this level. It seems that Yalla Yalla has caught on to the street food trend and is aiming itself at Londoners who don't fancy eating in a rundown Lebanese cafe (like the one by Marble Arch, whose name I forget, but which does amazing falafel). In general, it felt to me a bit like a Lebanese Wahaca, though not as good. I would go back, but only before my evening meal just to try an amuse of their chicken livers, if I have a willing accomplice.

Yalla Yalla
12 Winsley Street, London
020 7637 4748

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon