Located in the metaverse-like Bloomberg Arcade, Koya is undoubtedly the top choice for udon in the Square Mile. Designed by Foster & Partner, the Arcade has become something of a food oasis – home to Lina Stores, Brigadiers, Caravan and Ekte. And Koya is no exception to that list. Whilst most Japanese noodle bars in London, whether it’s ramen or udon, lack consistency in quality, Koya – which opened its first branch in Soho in 2010 – is well reputed. Its flat-sided udon have been described as leagues ahead of what passes for udon in other Japanese restaurants across town.
And another big thumbs up for Koya City: you can book. A restaurant that values diners’ time is always a good start and the fact that you can make a reservation here takes this restaurant from being a casual, laid-back place you should be eating in, to somewhere you should also absolutely be socialising in.
Service and design at Koya City both focus attention onto the food. The space is part rustic Tokyo diner, part cabin eating. The muted beige colourscape provides a minimalist backdrop to allow the dishes to shine – interior and conversations soon get sidetracked by the arrival of a steaming bowl of mushroom and walnut miso (and trying to eat your udon in a sociable manner). The restrained stoicism and almost minimalist elegance of the interiors may seem spartan but it’s this deceptive simplicity that lies at the heart of Koya City’s success. The service is also not the warmest: our table wasn’t quite ready at our booked time, recommendations were reluctantly given and dishes were promptly cleared.
The cold service didn’t detract from the udon, though. Thick, chewy udon noodles are freshly made in-house every morning here and served al dente with a topping of your choice. Unusually for a (Western) Japanese restaurant, Koya City also has several vegan dishes. The apparent simplicity of the udon and its delicious execution is why Koya City’s udon is so effortlessly adaptable to vegan and vegetarian options. With no fussy, extraneous elements to hide behind, each bowl of udon succeeds on the sheer quality of its noodles, broth/sauce and toppings. The adaptability of this layering along with inspiration from the vegan/vegetarian-friendly cuisines of Japan’s monasteries means it can ably please plant-eaters.
Though I do have one issue with the menu – its division into four categories is unnecessarily complex: hot udon in hot broth; cold udon in hot broth; cold udon with cold sauce to pour over it; and cold udon with cold sauce to dip in. I think there are around 42 different types of udon on offer. Perhaps they should simplify down to just udon in hot broth (for the winter) and cold udon with cold sauce to pour over (for the warmer months)? On a summer’s day, I definitely return to try one of the tempting cold udon and cold broth combos – udon served with a sesame sauce which sounds like an elegantly flavoursome pairing.
Since hot noodles and hot broth seems to be the most popular and logical on a cold March evening, I went for that combination in the form of Curry Udon (£13.50). Pleasingly, the bowl came with a good number of grilled veggies dotting the broth: courgettes, peppers and finely cut spring onions. The broth, meanwhile, had a nutty umami quality and an extra kick thanks to the chilli seasoning added. With a good body to it, the texture was neither too thick nor overly watery, with just the right amount of body to allow the udon to sing – which are of course the star of the show here. The udon were thick with a consistent mouth-pleasing chewiness and bounciness that nonetheless gives way easily.
Though be warned: eating these udon is a challenge. And one not suitable to white clothes or a date. Mid-way through the bowl, my companion and I just about got the gist of it: using chopsticks to navigate the udon and dropping the noodle into the spoon carrying the broth. At least that seemed to be the approach of udon pros dining solo at the bar counter. But the slippery noodles easily slip out of grip of the chopsticks so quick slurping is required.
Koya’s menu of small plates are no after thought either. Not to miss is Atsu-Age (£10.40): fried & grilled tofu. Generously seasoned with ginger and soya sauce, and topped with plenty of finely mandolined cucumber, the freshness of its accompaniments are a joy alongside the expertly cooked tofu which – like the udon – had just the amount of bounce to bite.
Whether for lunch or dinner, Koya City is an ideal spot for a sociable dinner or a solo quick slurp at the bar counter. This place has everything you need for a great meal. It’s cool. It’s fun. And thanks to their evening bookings, it’s reliable. Deliciousness borne from discipline and tradition, with an eye on the future. That’s a formula worth slurping and savouring, now more than ever.
Koya City, 10-12 Bloomberg Arcade, London EC4N 8AR