Koya is a Soho noodle bar, up Frith St, just past the jazz club.
(Someone just filled their bingo card).
Sadly, it’s also set to close in May this year. Sadface. Much sadface. Thankfully its sister bar (two doors down) will remain.
I say “noodle bar” – it serves mostly udon, with a range of soups, sauces, and dressings. Some are hot, some are cold, the specials are nifty, and it’s a good time. We ducked in for lunch, making it barely in time for their 2:45 last orders, and there was still a (very short) queue. That’s encouraging. As was the service – friendly and attentive, and from a gentleman who seemed like he’d be more at home in a Jeffrey Bernard era Soho all-night Italian dive. Splendid.
Décor is simple, specials skew seasonal, livening up the rather dull basic sides, and udon are probably my favourite noodles.
At the time of writing, however, I weigh a little under seventy five kilos, so presupposing a broad-strokes comparability with rats, and an LD50 of 3g/kg, it would take 225g of salt, orally, to have a pretty good chance of killing me. This means I probably can safely go back to Koya, and maybe even even soon. That’s good, because it’s tasty But you can probably guess where I’m going with this.
Don’t get me wrong, salt is delicious. I’ve been seen eating Maldon by the pinch, straight from the box. But almost everything on Koya’s menu was rocking soy or miso, and it does build up over a meal. I’m not sure how you avoid that without some radical refactoring that would badly dent the concept, so I’ll concentrate on the good bits. This is easy, because they were numerous.
At the decidedly delicious end of salty was the tofu with kale tips. This was an agebitashi-style special: tofu cubes fried for a little exterior crisp, and served in soy, mirin, and presumably some kind of dashi broth with just-wilted kale. I’d probably have gone with kai-lan, myself, as the richness of the broth didn’t leave much space for the kale, but that’s a “different”, not a “worse”.
The broth is incredibly intense, almost like a rich French beef stock. I’ve made onion soup with things less robust. This would be too much if the tofu weren’t on the firm side, with a little richness itself. It seems daft to call tofu rich, and it’s not quite the right word. Creamy? Still no. Just a dense tofu that tasted very strongly of tofu, I suppose.
With minced radish and ginger to freshen it all, this made a great little entrée, and the folks next to us with the dish of asparagus and dashi scrambled egg looked positively delighted.
We both opted for noodle soups next, which means I really do need to go back and check out some of the pouring and dipping sauce variants before passing judgement. Kit’s was pork with vegetables and miso, and it was a good, solid one of those. Mine was the Cornish crab and baby clam hiya-atsu – cold udon on the side of a miso broth, with a delicious but profoundly impractical half crab swimming in it.
Sure, the crab was soft, sweet, and juicy. But can we just take a moment to appreciate what an astoundingly terrible idea this is. Not the flavours, they get a pass. The half crustacean, shell-on and spindly, sat in a rapidly cooling bowl of fucking soup.
By the time you’ve dismantled the tasty little bastard, it’s the same temperature as the noodles, and you and everyone else on the shared table is wearing half your lunch. Yes, I’m a total klutz, but even with more coordination than a baby giraffe on an ether binge, this is fiddly, messy dining.
I’d be cross if crab wasn’t worth it.
No, file this one under: “great taste, terrible idea”, and move on. The udon has some firmness to it, and isn’t rubbery. There’s bite and substance, and no stickiness – they’ve sourced it well. The crab was succulent once extracted. The clams were clams, and didn’t add much, but presented beautifully. The miso broth was, again, a little salty, but it all really came together around the crab flavours, and I can’t fault it, even for all that I’d hoped to accessorise my shirt with a little less soup that day.
My main regret is not having the Orkney scallop sashimi.
Soho is not exactly short of places to eat noodles if eating noodles is what you want to do. At the trendster ramen end, Bone Daddies and Tonkotsu are nearby, and there’s a wealth of Chinese places even if you stop short of Chinatown.
Honestly, I’d probably send you to Bone Daddies, with the caveat that the price you pay for better food than Tonkotsu is a far less pleasant dining experience. But Koya is absolutely a welcome alternative. Or it was. If you’re reading this early enough, go before the tense changes. While it’s still here, Koya is doing simple things well, the prices aren’t crazy (around twelve quid for a main), and the specials are certainly keeping it interesting.