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Square Meal Review of Koya ?

Queues of young trendies and fans of the cult ‘noodle movie' Tampopo have been congregating outside no-bookings Koya since the day it opened, hoping for a taste of its traditional, specially kneaded treats. ‘Big, fat' udon noodles are the house special, served in a hot broth with a choice of toppings, from hot-smoked mackerel and green leaves to a giant tempura prawn – or you can sample them cold with dipping/pouring sauces. Though the crowds come for Koya's slippery slurping stuff, its small plates are also worth a go: hot tips range from ‘excellent' kaiso (mixed seaweed salad) to cubes of braised pork belly steeped in sweet cider or sliced duck with delicate spring onion dressing. Communal tables in the pokey dining room don't suit everyone and service can be slow, but Koya's central location and ‘cheapish' bills make amends.

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  1. Published : Friday, 26 July 2013

    vialaporte :: Koya // Soho // London

    A Bib Gourmand sets a pretty clear expectation in your mind; tasty food at a reasonable price. Well, Koya in Soho...
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  1. Published : Friday, 27 June 2014

    Dancing In High Heels :: THE BACKBENCH #3, KOYA

    I'm back again...for the third time at The BackBench.I tried very hard to resist from eating too much earlier in the day at work, and managed to survive nibbling on three mini chocolate brioche buns and a cup of coffee. I had clearly built up quite an appetite by the time I arrived at Koya, and (elegantly) plonked myself in the middle of the bench.Having more recently acquired a liking for sake, I also ordered the sake flight of three 90mL glasses - nothing too hardcore on a 'school-night'  | Cherry Tomatoes & Shiso Dashi | Fresh and juicy tomatoes, in a very light shiso dashi.This was paired with Kamoizumi Junmai Daiginjo "Autumn Elixir", which is described to possess flavours ranging from persimmon to caramel to earthy notes of shiitake and autumn leaves. | Jellied Turbot, Asparagus & Fresh Wasabi |Making use of asparagus once again before the season comes to an end. The turbot was first cooked in dashi, and the turbot broth used in making the jelly.  | Chilled Seatrout Surinagashi, Jersey Royals & Wild Pea Shoots | Delicious and creamy, and great on a warm summers evening. Another appearance of the Jersey Royal, baked in a similar fashion as before in seaweed and salt. This was paired with Terada Honke "Katori 90" Pre Modern Brew, produced organically and the rice only polished 10%, resulting in quite a strong rice bran flavour.  | Early Aubergine & Turnip Kaburamushi |The turnip, a classic winter dish in Japan. The dish was formed in a way to imitate snow, which Chef Junya improvised with to create a summer version by utilizing aubergine.  | Carp, Peppers & Scottish Girolles |I don't usually see much carp on menus, and this was grilled really well. Deliciously combined with peppers and one of my favourite mushroom varieties.  | Boar Belly, Wild Spinach & Wild Flowers |The meat was rish and gamey, slightly chewy, and much leaner than domestic pork. Nice sweet, intense flavours, and really well marinated. Served with wild spinach and an eye-catching green sauce, scattered with a variety of wild flowers that they foraged over the weekend.  | Chilled Cucumber Udon |I always look forward to the udon course - me and my love for noodles! This time the udon was served chilled which was really tasty despite not having any meat in it. I especially loved the paste served with it which was a spicy green chilli paste with fresh Szechuan seeds.  This was paired with Terada Honke "Kaikoshu" Pre Modern Brew 12-Year Aged, which had a much darker colour and deeper flavours, kind of like whisky. | Elderflower Pickled Daikon || Wild Strawberries & Sakekasu Ice Cream |And finally for dessert, we were once again served the sakekasu ice cream which I really enjoyed, this time combined with wild strawberries.   Getting a feel and view from the other side of the BackBench! Another great evening spent at the BackBench. Third time in a row and already looking forward to the summer dates which I have penned down in my diary.Click on the links below for my previous BackBench posts:The BackBench #1The BackBench #2The Cheekster, signing out x
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  1. Published : Tuesday, 15 April 2014

    Dancing In High Heels :: THE BACKBENCH #1, KOYA

    Celebrating its 4th year anniversary since it opened in 2010, Koya is undoubtedly still one of the best places in London for comforting Japanese food. After failing to get an evening reservation, I opted instead for the afternoon sitting at 1.30pm. Having rushed after finishing my dance class, I arrived slightly flushed and earlier than I expected. I was the first guest to arrive and perched myself at the end of the back bench, in front of the open kitchen.  When all the other guests arrived, Chef Junya Yamasaki gave us a short introduction of the concept behind starting The BackBench - the opportunity to go further than their blackboard to bring a Koya-style tasting menu.And then it was finally time to eat...    | Fresh Kombu & Bramley Ponzu | Kombu is an edible kelp or seaweed commonly used to flavour Japanese soups, noodle broths and stocks (dashi). Served in a shot glass, it had a refreshingly sour taste from the ponzu, a citrus-based sauce, which was a nice start to our Koya tasting experience. | Jellied Eel, Wild herbs & Miso Soup |Fusing Japanese cuisine with a traditional English dish - jellied eel consists of chopped eels boiled in a spiced stock, which is then allowed to cool and set that forms the jelly, and usually eaten cold. This was topped with delicate pieces of edible wild herbs. The broth was so delicious that I couldn't resist from tipping all my rice into the bowl to soak up all the goodness. And washed it all down with a warming bowl of miso soup.  | Sansai Tempura | Different from the usual prawn and vegetable tempura that I have eaten, this dish used sansai, which refers to wild greens/vegetables which are gathered for eating. A couple of them had an intriguing sour flavour to it. The leaves were nice and crunchy, just like eating crisps, but better.Not too greasy and a really great dish that I would be happy to snack on any day.I don't usually drink in the afternoon, nor do I drink much sake, but I decided to order just one cheeky glass - Miyasaka Masumi "Arabashiri" First Run. A seasonal sake made in spring, it had wonderful pure and fruity flavours with sweet and vibrant notes - I know what I'll be ordering from the sake list next time. | Scottish Seaweeds, Pot Roasted New Jersey Royals, Wasabi & Butter |Served in a huge pot, it was quite fun digging through the salt, hunting for those hot, steaming potatoes. After shaking off the salt, we dipped them into our bowls of melted butter, with a tiny hint of wasabi on the side.I was tempted to eat the seaweed, but then I would have probably ended up with a mouthful of salt.    | Soft-Boiled Egg & Nettle | There were two separate egg and chicken dishes, and the egg dish was served first - I guess that solves the chicken and egg question?A lovely soft egg centre, and the nettle was really thin and crisp. | Grilled Chicken & Calçot |This was one of my favourite dishes. Grilled over low charcoal heat, the chicken meat was so juicy and tender, with a slight smokey flavour. Served with some sichimi on the side, this may be one of the tastiest chicken dishes that I have had in a while. | Braised Boar, Burdock & Parsnips | I've had my share of pork belly throughout the years, but not very often had a wild boar version. I don't usually eat the fatty layers, but I cleaned every bit off this dish - the meat was soft and tender and the fatty layers had a firmer texture than what I was expecting, which was tasty. The burdock, another wild and edible, nutritious plant, and the parsnip were also well-cooked. All of them marinated in a delicious sweet-flavoured sauce. | Eel & Ramson Udon |And of course we couldn't have missed out on their handmade udon noodles in their light and warming soups. This was topped with a tantalizing piece of eel. Instead of being heavily marinated in teriyaki sauce like other places where I've tried unagi dishes, this was grilled, which enabled us to have a better appreciation of the clean flavours of the meat. Eel meat is generally quite rich due to its high fat content, but when cooked slowly the fat can be drained out, producing a beautifully prepared dish such as this. | Otsukemono |Like the kimchi in Korean cuisine, the Japanese have their own version of pickled vegetables called Otsukemono (漬物, tsukemono). Japanese pickles play an important part in the Japanese diet - commonly used as a garnish, relish, condiment, or such as in this case, a palate cleanser. | Botamochi & Innes Brick |And finally our last course of the meal, dessert!Botamochi (ぼたもち or 牡丹餅), named after the spring flower, botan, and are traditionally made during the spring higan. It is a Japanese sweet made with sweet rice and sweet azuki/red bean paste. I do love red bean, and I enjoyed the sweet flavours, paired with the smooth and tangy flavour of the cheese.And we were also served a nice tipple of sake to wash it all down, and a pot of green tea after as well.  And not forgetting one for the scrapbook...thank you Chef Junya!A really enjoyable and intimate dining experience, and definitely worth trying if you get the opportunity. Their next date is Monday 19th May, which I believe will be just as amazing as this one.The Cheekster, signing out x
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  1. Published : Tuesday, 20 May 2014

    Dancing In High Heels :: THE BACKBENCH #2, KOYA

    After a really enjoyable experience at the first BackBench last month, there was no doubt that I was just as excited, if not more, to grab a place at the second one.The BackBench concept enables Chef Junya to experiment further with his dishes to bring a Koya-style tasting menu. Limited to only five spaces per seating, the experience is much more intimate and personal, giving the opportunity for interaction and being able to observe the different dishes being prepared in front of us.The use of freshly picked seasonal ingredients means that the menu is always different, with dishes being subject to change, even on the night before, depending on what ingredients Chef Junya has been able to obtain. Like the previous one, the menu consisted of 10 different courses. This time I had some company so we both went for the sake flight, consisting of four 180mL glasses (£68). The selection of sake was sourced from The Natural Organic Japanese Brewery "Terada Honke", which has brewed sake for more than 300 years in Kozaki. Utilizing the Kimoto method, the sake is naturally brewed using organic rice, with the help of yeasts and various microorganisms involved in sake making.| Wild Pea Shoots, Horseradish & Yoghurt Miso | This first course was a really tactile dish, which we were advised to eat with our bare hands. The wild pea shoots were freshly foraged the day before and went perfectly with the dip.This came paired with Terada Honke Gonin Musume ("Five Daughters") Unfiltered Sake.  | Fresh Yuba, Amalfi Lemon & Wild Rose | Yuba, also known as "beancurd sheet", is a true delicacy made from soya beans. Freshly made in the kitchen just before being served, it was silky smooth with a lovely melt-in-your-mouth sensation. Fresh citrus flavours from the lemon and slight sour taste from the vinegar. | Seaweed Salt Roasted Jersey Royals & Miso Soup | I remember this dish well from the first BackBench! Jersey Royals are most plentiful and flavoursome from April to June, with its peak production in May - their season is so short that it makes sense to enjoy them while available. Most farmers still use natural seaweed fertiliser, also known as "Vraic", which provides the soil with nutrients and helps stop pest infestation.The potatoes were baked in rock salt and seaweed from Scotland - delicious sweet and nutty flavours, and a warm and comforting bowl of miso soup to accompany it.This course was paired with Terada Honke "Katori 90" Junmai Kimoto Muroka. For this sake, the rice is only polished for 90%, which results in a strong rice-y taste.  | Kombu Cured Turbot, Cucumber & Shungiku Flower |My first time trying turbot as a sashimi dish, which had quite a chewy texture, accompanied with the fresh flavours of the cucumber and slight peppery taste from the Shungiku ("Spring Chrysanthemum") flower. | White Asparagus Tempura & Nettle Salt |Grown underground using the process of etiolation, the white asparagus variety has a slightly milder flavour and is more tender than green asparagus.Crispy light batter, and great with the finely ground nettle salt. | Seabass, Cockles & Sea Kale Tops |The seabass was grilled perfectly and the soup was light yet appetizing. I don't often see cockles on menus, and to be honest I've never actually dared to try them back home in Malaysia where seafood is in abundance. However, I did surprisingly loved the Scottish cockles which were very fresh and clean.Topped with lusciously green fresh sea kale that were just picked the day before, another seasonal ingredient.This was paired with Terada Honke Gonin Musume Junmai - slightly stronger flavours than the first one. | Grilled Duck, Burdock Miso & Sansho |A generous amount of deliciously tender and slightly rare grilled duck meat shared between the two of us. Each mouthful was an explosion of juicy goodness (some bits slightly fattier than others) which went well with the sweetness of the burdock miso. This course was paired with Terada Honke Kaikoshu, our final sake pairing - the colour and flavour much deeper and stronger than the earlier ones.     | Asparagus, Pickled Egg & Garden Herbs Udon | And of course there was their famous handmade udon noodles, topped with an oozy pickled egg and asparagus and garden herbs (mint, chives, parsley).  | Cherry Blossom Pickled Turnip |Pickled overnight, this was a tasty palate cleanser just before dessert.  | Elderflower & Sakekasu Ice Cream |An interesting flavour choice, using the lees left over from sake production. Subtle rice and sake notes with a refreshing light finish. Another fantastic meal at The BackBench, which will definitely be one of my regular spots in the months to come.To read my previous post on the first BackBench, click here. The next date has not been announced yet, but will surely be something to look forward to.The Cheekster, signing out x
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  1. I don't want a big flat noodle Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld episode “The Virgin”) Koya is a small Japanese udon noodle place in Soho. Simple decor, cozy, wooden communal tables, a bar in front of the kitchen at the back, wood panels with the menu and some blackboards with specials on chalk on the walls, and Bib Gourmand award by the Michelin Guide. The place is usually packed so we took a chance for lunch on the bank holiday. Marisol at the placeWe started with the Kakuni, a braised pork belly in cider. It was lovely, nice broth, wonderful flavours, perfectly cooked. Then we shared Kamo Roast or roast duck, nice dish but missed a bit the wow factor, overall ok. Pork belly timeDuckAs main I got the Atsu Atsu, hot udon in hot broth. It was ok, again not impressed, I think the broth needed more time to develop flavours. Mine was with tempura prawn, not a good idea to have a crispy tempura in a hot broth, after I ordered I knew that the broth was going to dissolve the crispiness of the tempura. Marisol got a Donburi, the ten curry don. Basically rice with a tempura prawn, it was really nice, great flavours, perfect to appreciate the crispy tempura, excellent dish, and it comes with a nice miso soup. Atsu AtsuDonburiMisoOverall Koya is a nice place, for me the broth was a bit weak, I like dense, depth, developed flavours, Marisol on the other hand prefers this kind of light broths. So I guess is up to you, I will come back but definitely the rice is what I will have.Time to taste the duckKoyaT: 020 7434 4463Japanese Cuisine / Udon NoodlesApprox Damage: £27ppArea: SohoBorough: City of WestminsterTwitter: KoyaUdonView Larger Map  |  Get Directions  |  View Bird's Eye
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  1. Published : Thursday, 14 November 2013

    Drifting Epicure :: Koya

    Koya is a serious Japanese udon (noodles) restaurant and also one of my favourite places in Soho for a quick meal. The only problem is that more often than not it involves a bit of queueing. Udon is the thing to order here as half of the menu consist of udon items. There are three ways to have it here: hot noodles in hot broth, cold noodles with hot broth and cold noodles with cold dipping sauce. Personally I prefer to have the noodles (cold) served on the side.

    The space is very small with one bigger room and a small space sitting in front of an equally small kitchen...
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  1. Published : Saturday, 21 December 2013

    Samphire and Salsify :: Koya, Soho

    Koya is a Japanese udon restaurant on Berwick Street in Soho. Whenever I’ve walked past there’s always been a mahoosive queue out the door. When we joined the end of it one evening for a spot of dinner, we were pleasantly surprised to be seated rather quickly...
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  1. Published : Monday, 30 December 2013

    The Cutlery Chronicles :: koya, soho - review

    There is something to be said about a restaurant with the guts to pare down the interiors to four walls, a tiled floor, basic wooden furniture, and a curtain at the entrance. It’s a combination that doesn't fail to pique interest as it often translates to an assurance in the offering. And Koya in Soho has just that - oodles of understated confidence. And oodles of noodles.

    As is typical of Japanese aesthetics, the lack of exaggeration or pretence found inside is reflected in the honest food. Whilst the country is home to an array of carbohydrate options to accompany a bowl of steaming stock, Koya’s contribution is built around a specific type - the thick and slippery wheat flour udon...
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  1. Published : Wednesday, 31 October 2012

    LONDONcalling :: Koya

    Koya is one of those places that I always wanted to try but other new openings sort of got in the way, and it got pushed down my must visit list. Truth be told Japanese food has not really exited me in the past and as this place specialises in Udon noodles it felt just a little restrictive menu wise.Something aroused my inner self when on twitter someone was singing their praises about the specials board. So hey ho lets give it a whirl then.Its been a couple of months since our visit and back then it was a nice sunny day so a hot steaming bowl of noodles was off our menu, even a cold bowl did not appeal.A queue greeted us ( its another no bookings place)  so we waited patiently like everyone else. One of the couples in front of us were beckoned through to dine but they left within minutes mumbling something. Clearly they were unimpressed.Its pretty basic inside, bench seating, tiled floor, sparse decor with blackboards of specials providing interest on the walls. We opted to sit by the open kitchen as for me (but not my wife) this is the best seat in the house.We chose our food mainly from the specials board, and as is the norm we tried a number of different dishes.This is what we ate. Whole steamed tomato, shiso, ginger ( £4.70) Globe artichoke, mustard miso vinaigrette (£7.70)"Tatsuta" Fried haunch of venison, mixed green coleslaw (£7.70)Monkfish, aubergine, girolle "agebitashi" (£8.70)Prawn tempura (£9.90)Pork ribs (£9.40)We drank wine by the glass and I had a couple of beers which for me worked well with the food.Thinking back through the dishes we made some bad choices. The globe artichoke was bland and boring. Its been an age since I ate one and it will be more than an age before I eat one again.We were expecting more from the Italian tomato. Even with the soy, dashi and ginger addition the tomato itself remained pretty tasteless, it really was a nothing dish. My fault in a way for ordering it but the tomato should at the very least have tasted of tomato.We did enjoy the meaty monkfish paired with the delicious sloppy aubergine which had soaked up the dashi broth.The pork had been braised in soy, mirin and sugar and it was full flavoured but very fatty. The gelatinous texture reduced the impact of the dish.Tempura Prawn, mushroom, courgette and sweet potatoes was timed well, crunchy but not overcooked, decent dipping sauce too.The deep fried venison was decent enough but a little on the tough side. In a way I now wished that we had tried a noodle dish perhaps instead of the artichoke and tomato. Still we all make mistakes.Koya is somewhere that we would not dash back to. Its a pit stop venue for youngsters with simple tastes who want to fuel up before doing whatever they  need to do for the rest of their day. Part of the attraction is of course that it is cheap and some people can perhaps get by on one or two dishes.We would perhaps give it another try for the noodles but given its abudant food choice location and our forward planning I can't envisage that happening in the foreseeable future.Koya49 Frith StreetLondon.W1D 4SG. 
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