Koya’s discreet grey frontage is adorned with only a simple navy cloth in front of the door, so amid the myriad of eateries on Soho’s bustling Frith Street, it would be easy to pass it by. Having heard of Koya’s excellent reputation for the Japanese specialty Udon noodles, however, I was keen to stop in so that I could feature it in a restaurant review and, in the event, I was certainly pleased that I did. Koya doesn’t take bookings, and when my dining partner and I visited one Wednesday lunch time, there was a queue out of the door at 12.30pm. Fortunately, the quick turnaround of tables meant we didn’t have to wait long. The interior décor is as minimalist as the exterior, and the tables are quite tightly packed in, but the atmosphere still feels welcoming.
The menu is fairly compact, offering either Atsu Atsu (hot udon noodles in hot broth), Hiya Atsu (cold udon noodles with hot broth), Hiyashi Udon (cold udon noodles with cold sauce to pour), or Zaru Udon (cold udon noodles with cold sauce to dip), each with a variety of possible toppings. There are also rice dishes for diners who aren’t so keen on the udon noodle, and a selection of small side dishes.
My dining partner enjoyed a large steaming bowl of Tori Atsu Atsu which was like a more authentic version of the hot udon noodles in hot broth with chicken that we’ve enjoyed for years under the name Ramen in places like Wagamama and Satsuma. I wanted to try something a little bit different, so I chose the Yasai Tenzaru – hot vegetable tempura with cold udon noodles and a cold sauce for dipping, and I was highly impressed. The thick, worm-like udon noodles had a filling, satisfyingly chewy texture, and were sprinkled with shredded seaweed, which gave them a subtle bitterness that was surprisingly pleasant. The dipping sauce was like a light soy, and came with a little dish of finely sliced tangy spring onions, sweet pickled ginger, and nutty toasted sesame seeds to stir in and add extra flavour. It gave the noodles a bit of a kick and really complimented the tempura, which was perfectly fried in a feather-light batter. I was also pleased with the selection of vegetables, which included generous slices of carrot, courgette and sweet potato, a sizeable broccoli floret, a giant shitake mushroom, and a spear of asparagus. We had wanted to share a side dish of Kamo (roast duck) but were told by an apologetic waiter that it wasn’t ready yet when we placed our order. In fact, we didn’t need it as our mains were sufficiently filling on their own.
In terms of drinks, Koya offers free chilled carafes of tap water at all tables, so it would be easy to forego the drinks menu altogether if you were on a tight budget. Koya does serve a couple of wines, but perhaps unsurprisingly has a greater variety of sakes and shochus. As it was lunch time though, my dining partner and I opted for deliciously refreshing cans of cold oolong tea. Service was swift and, as Koya doesn’t offer desserts, we were in and out within the hour. At around £15 for a main, soft drink and service, Koya may not be the cheapest place in town, but it’s well worth it for a lunch with a difference and overall, Koya easily earns its four Forks-Up.
Koya 49 Frith Street London W1D 4SG