I love Udon. The noodle dish, like lobster or an improbably tall burger, is one of those great equalizers, a concoction so hard to eat it reduces an entire clientele to raving savages regardless of their pedigree. Pretention and etiquette fly out of the window when you’re dealing with infinite strands of fat dough in a bowl of thin liquid and splashing it all over your shirt and fellow diners. From the outset you’re all slurping from the same trough.
Udon noodles are much harder to handle than most noodles – they stubbornly refuse to kowtow to the most diligent chopstick work – and Koya serve some fiendish specimens. My bowl was a writhing mess of Medusa’s offcuts after a visit to the demon barber, and when I looked up from my own splatter the room was filled with various incarnations of the hag from Drag Me To Hell, disgorging bulbous snakes of wheat flour, gob and plate connected by viscous strands of soy-speckled white.
Koya’s Udon come hot or cold, with hot or cold broth. The usual meats are folded into the tangle or served on the side. Various versions of soy fly by as free water in a branded bottle is brought unprompted. I tried to order Hiyashi Buta Miso (pork and miso paste) but I had plums in my mouth. Pickled plums, (3 for £2) which were delicate little balls of soft flesh soaked in vinegar, and gave my jaw something to think about in the two-and-a-half minutes it took for my main to arrive.
I love it when things are so striking they stop me in my tracks. A thought in a book, a Mars Volta drum break, a taste that smacks me upside the head and demands I fall into a trance. The pork pieces in this dish do exactly that. Armed with a lethal burst of flavour (a tangy, weirdly Marmite-esque kick) and crumbling like a vintage cheese, they were like the pampered prodigy kid in a school play, hogging my attention every time they showed up – all singing, all dancing, making the outside world (and that army of noodle pukers) slip away. The fresh spring onions and sprinkle of seaweed barely stood a chance, proving quiet cameos to the pork’s endless solos. And as for the jug of cold sauce, it didn’t even get a speaking part.
The only gripe, my endless gripe, was that there weren’t enough of these nuggets. Within minutes I was panning for gold in my plate with all the desperation of Raoul Moat after an evening in a drain.
Cold noodles while London swelters are surprisingly refreshing, and Koya is one hell of a place to indulge. Go to Soho, walk through the fabric flaps that hang from the door like the loose trousers of a mumsy hippy and into this bare palace of lip-smacking, sauce-flicking joy, and join in.
Price per head: £10-15 (including a mandatory but not unreasonable 10% service charge)
Been there? What did you think?