If you’ve ever been on a dating app, you’ll probably have felt obliged to read strangers’ bios - you know, so you don’t feel like a completely vapid asshole. And between all of the Peep Show references, you’ll quickly notice some common themes. Weekend lie-ins. Good music. Laughing. Holidays. David Attenborough. But the thing is, these people aren’t lying. It just so happens that there are some things that are so good that inevitably almost everyone on the planet will like them and want to talk about them. Which brings us onto udon-specialist spot, Koya Bar.
This casual Japanese restaurant in the City is the younger sibling to Koya Bar in Soho, and just like the original, at lunchtime you’ll often find queues snaking out the door or people leaning in the entrance with a look of pure katsu concentration on their faces. Now, you might be thinking, this is London, a city where people queue to go on a giant ferris wheel, which technically is just a very elaborate, slow, and ill-conceived lift. A queue or wait for a table does not necessarily equate with greatness. Except here, it absolutely does.
Don’t worry though, the queue moves quick, and any wait is worth it because this place serves the kind of comforting, huge bowls of atsu-atsu and supersized crispy prawn tempura that will provoke the sort of deep feelings you might usually associate with first love, holidaying in Hawaii, or even better, winning a fiver on a scratch card. But if you tend to be a little Mark Wahlberg about your daily schedule, there’s good news. Because unlike their walk-in only Soho spot, if you’re planning on coming to Koya City in the evening or at weekend, you should know that you can book.
The fact that you can make a reservation here takes this restaurant from being a casual, laid-back place you should absolutely be eating in, to being somewhere you should also absolutely be socialising in. Of course, you can roll up here solo on a Tuesday afternoon with fifteen quid to spend and a need to hang your face over a steaming bowl of mushroom and walnut miso until you feel like a functioning adult again. In fact, there are few London restaurants where you can have a better time by yourself, listening to a podcast, dipping udon in soy sauce whilst winning imaginary arguments with Twitter Trolls. But booking an evening here with a group of friends or family - read as: anyone you love enough to power-slurp a plate of silence-inducing sweet tofu and cold udon in front of - has some serious perks. Namely their seriously excellent evening-only crispy fried prawn heads and range of sake.
Of course, it takes much more than the ability to book a table, and some fried crustaceans, to turn a small spot in the City into the restaurant equivalent of Louis Theroux and sunshine. This place’s likability factor is also down to the experience you’ll have here. The space is part rustic Tokyo diner, part ‘Cabin Porn’, and the perfect homely beige background to conversations that will get sidetracked by the arrival of a bowl of cider-covered pork belly that smells like Babe bathed in Bulmers. Then there’s the entertainment of an impromptu chopstick fight over the last piece of tonkatsu, or excitedly watching the open kitchen as fresh udon is pulled out of boiling water with a net so big that even Jaws would give it a wide berth. It might be casual here, but it’s never boring.
Every time you walk past Koya City after your first visit, you’ll have a Pavlovian reaction to their little red hut logo glowing neon in the window and start twitching for a katsudon or a quick soup with sweet tofu, spring onion and udon. 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. Now we just need people on dating apps to be the same.
A hot, steaming bowl of mild but morish curry with just enough hot udon. It’s filling. It’s warming. And if you hang your head over the bowl for long enough, it’s basically a facial too.
The beef in hot broth feels slightly less heavy than the curry atsu-atsu but will still sort you right out if you’re hungry. Or cold. Or both.
With the hiya-hiya you take some cold udon and some of the excellent, crispy tempura and dip it in the cold sauce. You’re given the choice between a salt-based sauce or a soy-based sauce. We prefer the latter. It also comes with some sesame seeds, spring onion, and karashi for you to flavour to your personal preference.
Okay, imagine us saying in our best Gerard Butler impression, “This. Is. Tempura.” Seriously, this is it. The batter is crispy and the prawns are so big we can only guess that they’re from Lou Ferrigno’s gene pool. This tempura goes great with the hot udon, but our favourite way to eat it is in the donburi.
With the exception of ice cream, cold foods, things like salads and tinned fruit, can get a bad rep. But the cold udon with cold sauce dishes here are really excellent. Our favourite is this sweet tofu and spring onion number. Plus, it costs under a tenner.
Even writing this we’re close to hightailing it out of the office and running to Koya for this donburi with crispy aged-pork loin and egg. Do you know how many buses we’ve missed because we refuse to run for them? A lot. But we’d go peak Forrest Gump for this on our lunch break. A must-try.
We’re not ashamed to say that this cider-covered pork smells so good that we attempted to eat it within three seconds of it arriving and one of us burnt the roof of their mouth. We regret nothing. Anything that tastes so good that we’re willing to gargle salt water for a week is surely a winner.
The evening-only tonkatsu is a great sharing plate. That being said, with a sauce this good, sharing might be harder than you think.