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Posts Tagged ‘Oxford Street’

Koya (udon noodle bar)

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.

kaiso salad (£4) and onsen tamago (£2) at Koya

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.

prawn tempura udon noodle soup (£9)

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

Noodle Oodle (la mien/Chinese noodles)

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).

gai lan

roast pork noodle soup (char siu la mien) £7

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.

Koya on Urbanspoon

Noodle Oodle on Urbanspoon

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exterior of Tomoe sushi restaurant in London

Almost a year ago, I read Krista’s rave review of Tomoe sushi and thought “hmm, it’s cheap, fresh, handy when near Oxford Street *and* it’s named Tomoe [just like my fave sushi place in NY].” There was *no question* I was going to rush over.

So. I’ve been to Tomoe five or six times over the past few months, and the thing I liked every time was that it was, in fact, cheap, fresh, and handy when near Oxford Street. No fireworks from the food. But good, honest value: no matter how much I order at Tomoe, my tab always seems to come out around £15.

Well, this evening when I dropped by, Tomoe’s sushi just knocked my socks off. The fish’s freshness was off the charts. I was so impressed! All those other visits I’ve paid were good, but today was great. When I mentioned how especially good the sushi was today, our server looked at me like I was on crack. Maybe they just got a super-good fish delivery today? Maybe the packed house (thanks to a very large party of Japanese men) meant the sushi was made especially a la minute? I wish I could figure out why today was suddenly shoulders-above all my previous visits, because I really couldn’t get enough of the fish.

I started with miso soup, as always, and drinking it down created a spot of warm comfort in these cold, dark nights. It’s good, but the food that followed was without question the highlight.

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

chirashi sushi at Tomoe

My friend ordered the chirashi sushi (aka bowl of assorted sushi toppings on rice), and look at the care that went into putting it together. It was so pretty! And £8 for this large bowl of goodness.

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

salmon nigiri at Tomoe

Salmon nigiri (£1.70 a piece) was melt-in-your mouth rich. Fresh and light tasting. Beautifully sliced and bedded on still-slightly-warm sushi rice, with an excellent balance of sweet, sour and spicy (from the wasabi). I started with just two pieces and just had to have more and more.

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

shrimp tempura maki at Tomoe

Maki was good as always, but played second fiddle to the raw fish. That said, I’m partial to the shrimp tempura roll (when am I not, honestly?) as well as to the unagi-avocado roll. Most rolls are £5 an order, and three orders is very filling, even if you’re a big eater comme moi.

The bill never arrives itemized, but I always end up with an average tab of £15 for seemingly-endless amounts of sushi and green tea. Service is unfailingly polite and sincere seeming. For example, today, our server apologized in advance when we sat down, because she worried that the crowds of diners this evening would mean the sushi chef would be slower than normal fulfilling our order.

The decor is drab, but endearingly un-slick. Go. Bring friends. And tell me what made today so much better than all my earlier visits.

Tomoe Sushi, 62 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2PB; 0207 486 2004; closest tube stations: Bond Street or Oxford Circus
Tomoe on Urbanspoon

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Ping Pong Restaurant, James Street

My friend Val organized an outing for dim sum last weekend, and when she told me that we were headed to a restaurant called Ping Pong, I had to admit that I had doubts. It’s the name. Ping Pong. Not even table tennis players like it when you refer to their sport that way, so why would I want to try a dim sum restaurant that decided the most Chinese-sounding thing they could name themselves was a term that has no meaning whatsoever in Chinese!?!

Well, attempting to act like a normal person sans weird hangups, I agreed to Ping Pong, and our group of three met at 12 noon at the James Street location (ack! a chain, no less), near Bond Street tube.

When I reached James Street, I saw that the restaurant doors were open, but Val was standing on the street corner. Why? Because even though the restaurant opens at 12, you can’t set foot inside until the staff says you can. So we stood outside for 15-20 minutes, staring inside through the wide-open doors and waiting for a signal that we could step over the threshold.

At last we were admitted and then told that the three of us couldn’t sit near the French doors that opened out to the lovely sunny day. Apparently, those tables were “just for groups of two.” In the otherwise empty restaurant, the three of us had to sit in a four-top near the restaurant bar in the back.

Things could only improve from there, no?

The dim sum menu offerings, while limited, are just £3 a dish, and they’re actually not bad. The shao mai is passable (hot and meaty with a firm bite), and the chive dumplings aren’t bad once you get past the green-colored skin.

My favorite part of the meal was the Jasmine tea. Though it’s £2 per order, you’re served your own “ball” of tea, which opens up into a flower once you pour hot water in. Hot water is repeatedly offered as a top up, so cheers to the attentive service.

The decor is best described as Hakkasan-lite, with dark woods in a vaguely Chinese motif pattern.

And the best part is that when you’re done with dim sum, Selfridge’s is just around the corner. Which makes Ping Pong a nice, inexpensive choice for a meal when you’re shopping.
Ping Pong on Urbanspoon

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I couldn’t resist: Happy 4th of July to all my American readers!

I spent my Independence Day at work, trading jokes with Brits about how things went completely downhill for them after 1776. Not very original. Actually, not very funny, either. But a nice change from talking about the weather (which really has been rubbish, by the way).

Envious of reports coming back from the U.S. about barbecues, fireworks and summer weather, I still managed to enjoy myself today.First, several coworkers and I met a former colleague (wow, I’ve been here long enough to have former colleagues) at a Keralan restaurant near Oxford Circus. The place was a true dive, right down to the dirty, unattractive bathroom in the basement. How do I know it was Keralan cuisine? Well, it just so happens the place is named “The Keralan Restaurant.”

I’d stop by only if I were on Oxford Street and craved dosas, which were pretty tasty at the restaurant – a crisp crepe outside and a tasty mushy potato inside. The parathas were also good, reminding me of the best type of oily, hot bread you get when you order roti canai at a Malaysian place. The other seven or eight dishes I tried were so-so. Probably more appealing are the 1L-size bottles of Kingfisher available. Total tab for lots of food and drinks was £24 per person.

After dinner, I hopped on the Victoria Line back to my neighborhood and met Jon and our some of American friends for drinks at Desperados. We couldn’t think of anything more American than Tex-Mex, so margaritas it was at £17 per pitcher. Good times.

The decor is total kitsch, but what puts Desperados on the map is the fact that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown struck their infamous deal inside this very restaurant. Obviously nothing could be more July 4th than dinner at an Indian restaurant followed by drinks at a sub-par Mexican restaurant.

And what could make me more proud to be an American than I already am? Definitely the news that an American 23-year-old beat Kobayashi in today’s annual Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest.

Happy 4th!

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