On this cold, murky, soggy post-Christmas weekend, we sought to get some comfort food in some places where queues might be less than typical. Our first stop was a winner: Koya Bar in Frith Street, Soho.
Sometimes we have issues with dining out at “ethnic” places, because one of us has a fish allergy. On this particular Saturday, the unrestrictedly omnivorous one of us had a hankering for noodles, and paved a path towards Koya Bar, on Frith Street in Soho. No reservations taken here – nor at the mothership restaurant two doors down – so we aimed to arrive a bit early to beat the dinner crowd. We arrived around 530pm to find a packed house but no queue aside from us. We only had to wait for about 5 minutes before a group walked out, and we snagged the corner seats near the window.
The first thing we noticed: a whole lot of Japanese folks eating there. Whether they were ex-pats looking for a little reminder of home, or some well-honed globe-trotters looking for a bit of the same, we can’t say. What we can say is, this is definitely the kind of crowd you want to see in a place like this: they likely know more about what to expect than you do, so follow their lead.
Now, because of said fish allergy, the menu here was a little difficult to maneuver. Noodles abound – this is why we are all here, after all – and they are made on the premises. But we were informed that the vast majority of the dishes incorporate fish (via dashi) in some form, even the non-fish protein dishes. So, the allergic one was limited to the purely vegetarian dishes on the menu: not familiar ground!
We started with a round of warm sake, as we’d walked here from the East End while out and about on earlier escapades, and needed to warm up a bit. We then ordered our first salvo: marinated mushrooms (small plate), pork and miso udon noodles (main) and curry udon noodles (main). The noodle dishes are prepared to order, so expect to wait 30m or so for each round. When these arrived, one of us decided to order a poached egg side to throw on top of the pork miso. Velvety heaven!
Quiet ensued as we each dug into our respective bowls. This is the perfect kind of food for these wintry nights. A little ground chili pepper on top, and all is right with the world.
After we finished this round, a strange thing happened: we agreed that we should order another round of noodles. Even stranger: the one of us relegated to the vegetarian curry noodles liked the dish so much, that another was needed! This, certainly, has not happened before to the Londinium Project!
So next round: another curry udon, and a smoked mackerel and greens udon, with a small plate of pork bely braised in cider and a small plate of fried tofu. The belly arrived first, falling off the bones, with a delicious chew to the fat and and the meat and the thin layer of skin. The fried tofu was crunchy and light, and served in a small pool of scallion soy with some shaved scallions on top. Lovely.
Then, the noodles arrived. We both had a taste of the curry noodles first – and yes, they are well worth a try here (especially if you’re having more than one bowl during your night): thick, spicy broth covering those chewy, silky noodles. The smoked mackerel was also tasty, with the essence of the fish blending nicely into the broth. But we’ve got to say, the pork miso was the winner here (followed by the curry).
By the time we’d finished this round, we’d been sitting for about 2 hours, and a solid queue had formed: it started inside the restaurant with about 10 people waiting, and there were several people on the street outside as well. So, it was time to move on and let others have their shot. But we will definitely be back again soon, fish or not!