I love noodle soups. So when I saw this glowing review of Koya in last week’s TimeOut, I hopped to it. Thanks to the TimeOut effect, which I’d expected, there was a lengthy queue at Koya when I arrived at 7:30 last Friday evening. Luckily, Koya sits next door to Mooli’s, so while waiting, Jon and I snacked on a dry, sitting-around-too-long beef kati roll before wandering a little further down the street to try some Roman-style pizza al taglio at Adagio. Sadly, our slice of sausage pizza was also dried out and sitting-around-too-long.
After 40 minutes, we landed seats. It was clear the staff was overwhelmed by the crowds as some tables sat empty for a while before a server could clean up and seat new customers.
Jon and I were underwhelmed by the side dishes we tried: a seaweed salad (kaiso) was too sour for me to enjoy, and the onsen tamago wasn’t half as silky as I’d expected. It tasted like a regular poached egg served in room-temperature broth.
The udon noodle soup was (happily) quite outstanding, but for £9, I was expecting more than a single prawn tempura (which arrived soggy beyond belief). The noodles were a great, chewy-but-firm texture, and the broth was elegantly clear and packed with flavor. The couple with whom we shared a table had smartly ordered inexpensive noodle soups and then ordered a portion of prawn tempura for about £10, which meant their prawns arrived (1) separately from the soup and therefore not soggy; and (2) in a generous portion – there must have been four or five on their tempura plate.
So when the queues die down, I’ll go back to Koya and order my tempura separately from my udon noodle soup.
One last note: ginger tea (a whopping £3) is something I love making at home, and Koya’s version started out nice but it soon became clear that the restaurant had added a thickener (a gelatin?) to the tea, so as the tea cooled, it solidifed into a mucous-like beverage. Pretty gross. Stick with the “Japanese” tea for £2.20.
Our total for two bowls of noodles, two teas and two side dishes: £36.
Koya, 49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG, 020 7434 4463; closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road
After having eaten at Koya, I thought it was only fair to give a shout-out to Noodle Oodle, a no-frills Chinese noodle soup shop right next to Tottenham Court Road station. I’ve been going here for years and just never got around to blogging about it. The guy in the window making the la mien (hand-pulled noodles) tells you everything you need to know: stick with the la mien dishes.
Occasionally, my dining companions, despite my best efforts to stop them, order something off the starters menu (like any of the various dumplings). And it’s always a mistake. Always. Just get the noodle soup. At most, the garlic-stir-fried veg are a nice addition (gai lan is my fave).
I usually get the roast pork (char siu) noodle soup, and occasionally with won tons (which have a delicate ginger flavor that I love). Roast duck is less consistent than the char siu and won ton soups, with the duck being kind of stringy sometimes, so order that one with caution.
The place can get noisy and is definitely not a place to linger, but the noodle soups are hot, fresh and great for the price. Where Koya is elegant and stylish, Noodle Oodle is efficient and functional, but for the price and lack of queues, Noodle Oodle’s la mien soup continues to get my vote.
I’ve never spent more than £12.50 a person for a side of veg, a beverage and a ginormous bowl of noodle soup. If for some reason you’re still hungry afterwards, it’s a quick walk down Oxford Street to the inimitable Beard Papa for a delish cream puff.
Noodle Oodle, 25 Oxford Street, W1D 2DW, 0207 287 5953; closest Tube station: Tottenham Court Road
Alternate location: 106 Queensway Road, W2 3RR.