Type the words “udon” and “London” into Google and the search yields pages and pages of results that point to one restaurant.
Koya, a small udon-ya in Soho, is either very good at SEO, or the Capital’s sole source of these long, thick, wheat noodles that are as ubiquitous in Japan as a fry up is in Britain.
The latter is only half-true – Japanese noodle varieties, have become so popular you can pick them up dried by the packet in Waitrose. But Koya remains one of the few places in London to get authentic udon made fresh on the premises each day using traditional methods, part of which includes chefs pummelling the dough with their feet.
How lucky, then, for traditionalists, that its owners have just opened a second restaurant smack bang in the middle of the Square Mile.
Despite this reputation, to reduce Koya City to its noodles would be to do this stylish, airy eatery a disservice. Sure, a slightly larger kitchen than its West End original still pumps out stretchy, supple udon almost as quickly as diners can slurp it up in the form of Atsu-Atsu (hot noodles, hot broth), Hiya-Atsu (cold noodles, hot broth) or Hiya-Hiya (cold noodles, cold sauce).
But the extra space has also permitted an extensive sake list of mid-range and luxury bottles, a seasonal cocktail menu, and an expanded repertoire of small plates, which are the surprise standout despite being on the periphery.
Agedashi tofu is lifted by the richness of the homemade dashi broth, while the Ten Mori – fat juicy prawns and vegetables coated and fried in the lightest batter imaginable – will undo any disrepute previously inflicted by a food court bain-marie.
But back to what most of the diners seem to be here for; the udon. Soho favourites like the Kinoko hot udon with mushrooms and walnut miso and the English Breakfast Udon are front and centre, alongside newbies like Sakana (white fish) and Yasai Kakiage Ten (vegetable tempura).
We tried the Kamonabe, which quite literally translates to ‘duck pot’ in Japanese, although this sounds like far too simple a term for what is a rich, hearty broth full of sweetness from the fat of a tender duck breast sliced and floating in amongst those storied noodles.
Frequent visitors to Koya Soho will know to take a look at the specials blackboard before diving in and the same can certainly be said for the City’s version.
Smokey, flavour-packed quail and delicate, crispy fried artichokes on a bed of nori and whipped tofu are more proof that while Koya made its name in noodles, its kitchen is capable of much more.