Koya Soho doesn’t take reservations. As a result, there is a queue down the street, even on a Monday. Normally, this would be an inconvenience. But here, it’s part of the experience. After a short wait, we are ushered into the lively, sizzle-filled restaurant. Guided past vats of bubbling udon and slurping customers, we are assigned our metre of counter and tiny stools.
Everything on the menu sounds amazing, so we discuss it over sake. The sake - Kizakura Kappa Cup - is perfectly balanced with a hint of tang. After a lengthy discussion of the menu (a faux pas somewhere this busy), we order. Cider-braised pork belly comes first, the bowl smeared with fiery wasabi. We are still licking our fingers, teary-eyed when the karaage appears over the counter. Incredibly succulent inside, paired with pickled seaweed we could eat by the handful.
Housed in layer upon layer of crunchy shards, the tempura prawns that follow are insanely good. The vegetables can’t compete, save for the rich, umami-bomb mushrooms. Concerned by our dwindling noodle space but free of regret, we wash down the small plates with Asahi. Service here is a well-oiled machine: extremely efficient but never rushed.
Steaming bowls of Koya’s famous udon are delivered from across the counter. It’s safe to say the noodles are the focus here, making up about 95% of the dish. Some would expect a little more smoked mackerel or cumin lamb for their 13 odd quid. But this isn’t Wagamama. The noodles are brilliantly pillowy, having been made fresh that day. The broth, meanwhile, is laced with delicate, intermingling flavours, some so subtle they might have been imagined.
Koya isn’t super cheap, but then handmade things rarely are. Either way, if you want a proper ‘noodle bar’ experience, this is the place to go. Just watch your elbows.